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Protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning

Recently we’ve been talking about fire safety in our homes. Today, we turn our attention to a related topic: carbon monoxide poisoning.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 430 people die each year in the United States because of carbon monoxide poisoning, with about 50,000 people in the U.S. visiting the emergency room after being exposed to it.

“Carbon monoxide is sometimes called the silent killer,” Hoquiam Fire Chief Matt Miller explained, “because it is a colorless odorless and tasteless gas that can be lethal when inhaled.”

Dave Golding, the interim fire chief at Aberdeen Fire Department agreed.

“The Aberdeen Fire Department recommends that any home with any gas-fired appliances, such as stoves, furnaces, gas fireplaces and water heaters, as well as homes with an attached garage, have a carbon monoxide detector to help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning,” he said.

With winter on its way, people will be inside and using their heat source more. In addition, storms and power outages that cause people to use alternative modes of heating increase in the winter – creating more possibilities of carbon monoxide poisoning.

That’s why we wanted to review how to avoid becoming sick or dying from carbon monoxide poisoning.

CO becomes deadly very quickly

As we mentioned carbon monoxide is a gas that you can’t see or smell, but at high levels it can kill a person in minutes. It is produced whenever any fuel such as gasoline, propane, natural gas, oil, kerosene, wood or charcoal is burned.

If appliances that burn fuel are maintained and used properly, the carbon monoxide produced is mostly vented out and usually not hazardous. However, if appliances are not working and maintained properly or are used incorrectly, dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can result.

Four of the most common ways people are affected by carbon monoxide are

  • Operating a gas-powered generator in an area that is not properly ventilated

  • Using a charcoal grill indoors

  • Running a vehicle in an enclosed garage

  • Burning a fire when chimney flues are not working right

Symptoms of CO poisoning

Some symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning at low levels include:

  • Shortness of breath

  • Mild nausea

  • Headaches that may go away when not at the house

Some symptoms of higher levels of CO poisoning include:

  • Severe headaches

  • Dizziness

  • Mental confusion

  • Nausea

  • Fainting

  • Death, if these levels persist

One of the problems is that many of these symptoms are similar to those of the flu, food poisoning or other illnesses, therefore, often people don’t recognize what is happening.

Even with low levels of poisoning, people can experience longer term effects on their health.

What actions to take

If you experience symptoms that you suspect could be from CO poisoning you should get fresh air immediately. Open doors, windows, turn off combustion appliances and leave the house.

Then you should immediately seek medical treatment and tell the medical worker you suspect CO poisoning. If CO poisoning has occurred, it can often be diagnosed by a blood test done soon after exposure.

Now, find the source of the CO. You may need to have some expert help to find the problem and determine the proper solution.

Carbon monoxide detectors

Carbon monoxide detectors can provide a crucial early warning of elevated levels of CO. Just like a smoke detector, a carbon monoxide detector is a good investment for homes with heating appliances that burn fuel and where the garage is attached to or built into the house. They can be purchased at most hardware stores and easily installed by the homeowner.

When the device detects the presence of carbon monoxide at known harmful levels, it will sound an alarm so you and your family can get out quickly and take proper action.


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