Protect Yourself From Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Chimney

Each year, hundreds of people die accidentally from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, particularly during the winter months. Infants, older adults, and people with anemia or heart or lung disease are particularly sensitive to high levels of this colorless, odorless gas, which can cause sudden illness and death. Learn the symptoms of CO poisoning and how to protect yourself and your family.

What is CO?

CO is produced by the burning of fossil fuels—natural gas, gasoline, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal. If appliances like gas stoves, kerosene heaters, and furnaces are not working properly, are used incorrectly, or are not properly ventilated, dangerous levels of CO may result.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is caused by breathing high levels of CO. When this happens, your body does not get enough oxygen. You may become unconscious and your brain may be permanently damaged if you survive.

Know The Symptoms

Because the symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to the flu or a mild stomach bug or food poisoning, you may not realize CO is the cause. Beware if you experience symptoms only in your house, or others in your household have similar symptoms—especially if they started at about the same time:

  • shortness of breath
  • mild nausea
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • confusion
  • fainting

What To Do If You Have Symptoms of CO Poisoning

  • Get fresh air right away. Open doors and windows, turn off appliances and heaters, and get everyone out of the building.
  • Call 911 or have someone take you to an emergency room and tell them you suspect CO poisoning. CO poisoning can be diagnosed by a blood test or pulse oximetry test if it is done soon after exposure.

Take Important Safety Precautions

The good news is CO poisoning is entirely preventable. Follow these 9 tips:

  • Place carbon monoxide detectors on each level of your home and in your bedrooms. Replace the batteries on a regular basis, perhaps when you change the time on your clocks in the spring and fall.
  • Be vigilant of CO hazards from your neighbors if you live in an apartment or attached living space.
  • Have fuel-burning appliances inspected by a trained professional at the beginning of every heating season. This includes: oil and gas furnaces, gas water heaters, gas ranges and ovens, gas dryers, gas or kerosene space heaters, fireplaces, and wood stoves.
  • Make sure that flues and chimneys are connected, in good condition, and not blocked.
  • Choose appliances that vent their fumes to the outside whenever possible, have them properly installed, and maintain them according to manufacturers' instructions.
  • Don't keep a car running in a garage, even if the garage door to the outside is open. Fumes can build up very quickly and enter the living area of your home if the garage is attached. Also, be careful of keyless ignitions which don’t automatically shut off or can be accidentally turned on from inside.
  • Don't use a gas oven to heat your home, even for a short time. Never use a charcoal grill indoors.
  • Don't sleep in any room or space with an unvented gas or kerosene space heater.
  • Don't use any gas-powered engines (mowers, weed trimmers, snow blowers, chain saws, small engines, or generators) in an enclosed space.

Protect yourself and others from potentially deadly CO poisoning. Take steps today to make sure your home is safe.

author name

Vito J. DiCamillo, MD

Vito J. DiCamillo, MD, is medical director for LG Health Urgent Care with locations in Lancaster, Ephrata, Parkesburg and Lebanon. Dr. DiCamillo’s specialties include emergency medicine and family medicine.

Education: Medical School—Temple University School of Medicine; Residency—Lancaster General Hospital.

Call: 717-544-0150

About LG Health Hub

The LG Health Hub features breaking medical news and straightforward advice to help individuals of all ages make healthy choices and reach their wellness goals. The blog puts articles by trusted Lancaster General Health clinical experts, good 'n healthy recipes, videos, patient stories, and health risk assessments at your fingertips.

 

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