Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

As families prepare to bundle up, close the windows and turn up the heat, a potential danger is preparing to make headlines once again as the onset of winter continues to close in. This danger, carbon monoxide, has the potential to be found in every home, especially in those who neglect appliances that can be used to heat the residence. To keep your family warm, safe and healthy this winter, take the time to educate yourself about the potential risks of carbon monoxide. It could just save your life.

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What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide, or CO, is often considered to be a “silent killer.” This is because the presence of carbon monoxide cannot be detected by smell or taste.

CO is incredibly dangerous to both humans and animals due to the body’s red blood cells. These cells, whose main job is to carry oxygen throughout the body, find it easier to pick up and carry CO. If the levels of CO are high enough, the CO molecules may replace the oxygen molecules in the body. This can potentially destroy the body’s tissues and ultimately result in death. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 400 people die and more than 20,000 individuals end up in the emergency room as a result of CO poisoning.

There are a number of symptoms that may alert to CO poisoning. For example, someone who is suffering may:

  • Feel nauseous and may vomit
  • Suffer from a headache or chest pain
  • Act confused
  • Lose consciousness

While everyone can die as a result of high CO levels, those who use more oxygen are at a higher risk for CO poisoning. For example, unborn infants and children take in oxygen at a faster rate, making them more susceptible to damage caused by high levels of CO. Further, elderly individuals and those who suffer from heart or respiratory problems are also more susceptible to CO poisoning.

Because CO is undetectable and because the symptoms mimic other illnesses, CO poisoning is difficult to diagnose unless CO poisoning is suspected. In extreme cases, people who go to sleep after beginning to feel ill or are already asleep can die.

Dangers of Carbon Monoxide

CO is generated when fossil fuels do not correctly burn. Thus, any item in the home that uses fossil fuels to function can produce this dangerous gas.

  • Furnaces or other heating appliances that do not work correctly
  • Portable generators
  • Water heaters
  • Clothes dryers
  • Wood or coal stoves
  • Chimneys that have not been properly cleaned and maintained

One of the biggest dangers for CO poisoning are when cars are left running in a garage. While many are tempted to run the family vehicle for a short amount of time in order to warm it up, especially during cold weather, the CO emissions produced from burning gasoline can be incredibly dangerous. Running the car in a garage, even with the garage door open, can result in fatal levels of CO.

Protecting Against Potential CO Poisoning

Along with your smoke alarms, CO alarms should also be installed and regularly maintained. It is highly recommended by the Consumer Product Safety Commission that a CO detector be installed near sleeping areas within the home at the very least. However, you can provide your family with extra protection by installing one on each level of the home, including the basement. It is important to remember that CO detectors do not replace regular smoke alarms.

Further, all appliances that can potentially release CO should receive regular maintenance. If an appliance does not appear to be functioning correctly, it should be looked at by an expert immediately.

What to do if CO Poisoning is Suspected

If anyone suddenly begins to show symptoms of CO poisoning, especially if they are more susceptible, the fire department or emergency services should be called immediately. Even if it turns out to be a false alarm, it is better to be safe than sorry.

If your CO detector sounds the alarm or you believe that there is a presence of CO in your home, it is highly recommended that everyone move to an area that has plenty of fresh air. This can be achieved by either opening the windows or leaving the residence altogether. Once everyone is safe and accounted for, the fire department or other emergency services should be contacted immediately.



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