Temperatures outside are falling, prompting us to close up our houses and turn on our furnaces. Carbon monoxide can build up in enclosed and even partially enclosed places, and you might not know it. It’s an odorless, colorless gas that can kill before you’re even aware it’s in your home.
Dangerous levels of the gas can be produced by fuel-burning appliances such as hot water heaters, furnaces, stoves, ovens and clothes driers. Fireplaces and woodstoves, charcoal grills, lawnmowers, snow blowers and other yard equipment, as well as cars and trucks also produce it. (One quick note about gas stoves: If you do a lot of cooking and you have an unvented gas range, the carbon monoxide levels in the kitchen can rise quickly. You should open a window to help reduce the levels of the gas.)
Most everyone is susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning, but people with other health conditions such as chronic heart disease, anemia or respiratory problems are more sensitive to the harmful effects of the gas. Animals also are vulnerable.
Initial symptoms are similar to the flu, but without the fever. They include headache, feeling tired, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness. More serious symptoms include mental confusion, vomiting, loss of muscular coordination, loss of consciousness and even death. If you have any of these symptoms and you think you may have been exposed to carbon monoxide, you should immediately leave your house or garage or wherever you are and get medical care right away. Quick medical attention is extremely important.
The best thing you can do to keep the gas out of your home is to install a carbon monoxide detector near all the bedrooms in your home, and make sure you replace the battery regularly. If it goes off, leave the house immediately and call 911. Other things you can do include:
- Have your heating system and hot water heater serviced annually.
- Never use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or anything else that burns gas or charcoal in an enclosed area.
- Never use a gas stove or gas oven to heat your home.
- Never run a vehicle inside a garage, even if you leave the door open.
- Making sure that stove pipes and other vents are tight and not cracked or rusty.
- DHW: http://www.healthandwelfare.idaho.gov/Health/EnvironmentalHealth/IndoorEnvironment/CarbonMonoxide/tabid/942/Default.aspx
- DHW’s Indoor Environment Program: 1-800-445-8647.
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention FAQ: http://www.cdc.gov/co/faqs.htm