The days are getting colder, bringing the threat of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide gas comes from burning fuels such as gasoline, propane, oil, kerosene, natural gas, coal or wood. Carbon monoxide gas forms when the fuel does not burn completely.
Carbon monoxide does not have a tell-tale smell or smoke, so it can take the life of a healthy person without warning.
Each year in the United States, hundreds of people die from carbon monoxide poisoning and thousands are hospitalized. The number of incidents tend to spike during cold weather and power outages.
Physical symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include a splitting headache, nausea, shortness of breath, vomiting, lethargy, fatigue, dizziness and mental confusion. These symptoms are often mistaken for the flu.
Carbon monoxide can cause permanent brain damage, and can cause chest pains or heart attacks in people with heart disease. Carbon monoxide poisoning can kill, at times quickly.
If you believe you could be experiencing carbon monoxide poisoning, go outside and get fresh air immediately. Call for medical help from a neighbor’s home. The fire department will tell you when it is safe to re-enter the home.
Follow these tips to avoid accidental injury or death from carbon monoxide:
• Install carbon monoxide alarms in the hallways outside of sleeping areas. Change the batteries twice a year at the same time you change smoke detector batteries.
• Have your gas- or oil-burning furnace inspected for leaks and serviced by a professional each year.
• Inspect and service all chimneys and vents. A blocked vent (from soot or a birds nest, for example) can cause carbon monoxide to back up into the house.
• Do not use a generator indoors or in a garage or carport. Do not use other gas- or kerosene-burning equipment indoors.
• Do not warm up your vehicle by idling the engine inside an attached garage.
• Never cook or heat with charcoal barbecues inside your home, not even inside a fireplace.
• Do not use a gas oven or range to heat your home. Do not line the bottom of a gas oven with foil, as it might block air vents.
• Avoid gas or kerosene “space heaters” unless there is an exhaust vent.
• If you have a gas, propane, kerosene, coal, or wood-burning furnace, heater, or hot water supply, be alert to possible problems.
Signs that your device might be leaking deadly carbon monoxide gas include a decreased hot water supply, a continually running furnace that doesn’t seem to heat the house properly, a burning odor, increased moisture or soot deposits on the inside of windows or on vents and heating devices.
Have a professional inspection done if there are any questions about safety.
For more information on carbon monoxide, go to the state Department of Health website at tinyurl.com/wa carbon.
Consider sharing the information with friends and neighbors.
Diana T. Yu is the Health Officer for Thurston and Mason counties. Reach her at 360-867-2501 or firstname.lastname@example.org.