With the winter weather we are having in the metro-east area of St. Louis, most of us are hopefully trying to remain indoors. A hidden, and often forgotten, danger lurking indoors could be carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning! Each year, more than 500 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning and 15,000 injuries; and more than 2,000 commit suicides by intentionally poisoning themselves. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death. CO is found in combustion fumes, such as those produced by cars and trucks, small gasoline engines, stoves, lanterns, burning charcoal and wood, and gas ranges and heating systems. CO from these sources can build up in enclosed or semi-enclosed spaces. People and animals in these spaces can be poisoned by breathing it. Red blood cells pick up CO quicker than they pick up oxygen. If there is a lot of CO in the air, the body may replace oxygen in blood with CO. This blocks oxygen from getting into the body, which can damage tissues and result in death. All people and animals are at risk for CO poisoning. Certain groups — unborn babies, infants, and people with chronic heart disease, anemia, and respiratory problems — are more susceptible to its effects.
The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. High levels of CO ingestion can cause loss of consciousness and death. Unless suspected, CO poisoning can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms mimic other illnesses or warning signs, such as very low (hypoglycemia) or very high (hyperglycemia) blood glucose levels in diabetes. People who are sleeping or intoxicated can die from CO poisoning before ever experiencing symptoms. So it’s very important that those who spend a lot of time with you, learn how to test your blood glucose, in case you are not capable of doing it. The test result can give Emergency personnel valuable information in how to treat you.
To help prevent the dangers of CO poisoning, don’t run a car or truck inside a garage attached to your house, even if you leave the door open. Have a mechanic check the exhaust system of my car every year. A small leak in your car’s exhaust system can lead to a build up of CO inside the car. If you drive a vehicle with a tailgate, when you open the tailgate, you also need to open vents or windows to make sure air is moving through your car. If only the tailgate is open CO from the exhaust will be pulled into the car. Tips to help prevent CO poisoning from your home appliances include having your heating system, water heater, and any other gas, oil or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year. Other tips include: a) do not use portable flameless chemical heaters (catalytic) indoors. Although these heaters don’t have a flame, they burn gas and can cause CO to build up inside your home, cabin, or camper. If your heater has a damaged electrical cord or produces sparks, don’t use it. Do not place a space heater near things that may catch fire, such as drapes, furniture, or bedding. Use fireplaces, wood stoves, and other combustion heaters only if they are properly vented to the outside and do not leak flue gas into the indoor air space. Make sure chimneys and flues are cleaned periodically. b) If you smell an odor from your gas refrigerator’s cooling unit have an expert service it. An odor from the cooling unit of your gas refrigerator can mean you have a defect in the cooling unit. It could also be giving off CO. c) When purchasing gas equipment, buy only equipment carrying the seal of a national testing agency, such as the American Gas Association or Underwriters’ Laboratories. d) Install a battery-operated CO detector in each level of your home, including the basement, and check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. If the detector sounds an alarm, leave your home immediately and call 911.
If you lose electricity: a) never use a gas range or oven for heating. Using a gas range or oven for heating can cause a build up of CO inside your home, cabin, or camper. b) never use a charcoal grill or a barbecue grill indoors. Using a grill indoors will cause a build up of CO inside your home, cabin, or camper unless you use it inside a vented fireplace. c) never burn charcoal indoors; burning charcoal — red, gray, black, or white — gives off CO. Do not burn paper in a fireplace. If you must use a kerosene heater, ensure adequate ventilation by opening an interior door or slightly opening a window. d) Never use a portable gas camp stove indoors. Using a gas camp stove indoors can cause CO to build up inside your home, cabin, or camper. e) Never use a generator (or power washers, or other gasoline powered tools) inside your home, basement, or garage or near a window, door, or vent. Outside, generators must be more than 20 feet away from your home, doors, and windows.
For more information about carbon monoxide poisoning and prevention visit http://www.cdc.gov/co/