With the onset of colder weather across Idaho, we’re going to be using heating systems, hot water heaters, car heaters, portable outdoor heaters and other gas, oil or wood-burning appliances that emit potentially deadly carbon monoxide fumes. Because carbon monoxide can build up in enclosed and even partially enclosed places, it’s a good time to talk about carbon monoxide poisoning and steps you can take to avoid it.
Why is carbon monoxide so dangerous?
It’s an odorless, colorless gas that can kill you before you’re even aware that it’s in your home, car or recreational vehicle. In the U.S., an average of 430 people die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning each year, with the average annual death rate from CO poisoning three times higher for men than women.
Where does it come from?
Fuel-burning appliances such as hot water heaters, furnaces, stoves, ovens and clothes driers can produce dangerous levels of the gas. 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.
Who is most at-risk?
Most everyone is susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning, but people with other health conditions like chronic heart disease, anemia or respiratory problems are more sensitive to the harmful effects of the gas. Animals also are vulnerable.
What are some of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?
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.
How can we prevent carbon monoxide poisoning if we can’t see, smell or taste it?
- The best thing you can do 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 9-1-1.
- Make sure you have your heating system and hot water heater serviced each year.
- 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.
- Make sure that stove pipes and other vents are tight and not cracked or rusty.
A Closer Look at Your health airs weekly on KBOI AM 670 in Boise; this is a transcript of the Oct. 31, 2017 program.