Cold Weather Alert: Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
With winter tightening its grip on the cold-weather regions of the country, people are turning up the heat – and their risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. It’s more common, and deadly, than you may think. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Carbon Monoxide Poisoning sends about 20,000 people to the hospital each year. Some recover completely, some survive with permanent brain damage, and about 430 die from the deadly fumes.
While Carbon Monoxide poisoning can happen any time of the year, January and February are two the deadliest months. Here are four things to know and do.
What is carbon monoxide poisoning?
Poisoning happens when a person or animal breathes in carbon monoxide fumes that then build up in the bloodstream and crowd out the oxygen cells need to function – causing a type of suffocation.
How carbon monoxide gas gets into your home
Carbon monoxide is produced from burning fuel such as gas, oil, coal, and wood in generators, gas ranges, furnaces, water heaters, and fireplaces.
- Venting systems that are improperly adjusted or installed, or that are old, unsound, damaged, or blocked (such as from debris in a chimney or vent from leaves or birds’ nests) are the most common ways this deadly gas seeps into your home.
- Snow and ice can block furnace vents and intake pipes, causing the gas to build up inside of your house.
- Using a camp stove indoors or in a poorly ventilated area is particularly dangerous as there is no way to vent the fumes outside.
- Warming up a car in an attached garage can create dangerous levels of carbon monoxide very quickly. Always open the garage door if you do so. Even that’s not entirely safe; carbon monoxide can still seep into your home even when you have the garage door open.
What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?
Carbon monoxide poisoning is particularly dangerous because the gas cannot be seen or heard and has no odor, so the only clues are the physical symptoms that inhaling the gas causes. They can be as simple as weakness, nausea, headache, confusion, drowsiness, and chest pain, and are easily confused with flu symptoms or food poisoning. If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning remove everyone from the structure and call the Poison Control Center (800.222.1222) or 911.
How to recognize the presence of carbon monoxide
An inexpensive carbon monoxide detector (many are available online for under $35) can save your life. Experts suggest installing one by each bedroom. Other key locations include in your basement or cellar if that is where your furnace and hot water heaters are. If you have a gas-powered clothes dryer, place a detector next to it as well. This simple action can help ensure your safety and that of your family.
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