Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is often known as the “silent killer” and according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, there are upwards of over 2,000 unintentional CO poisoning deaths per year in US. CO takes the top spot as the leading cause of poisoning deaths in the nation. In addition to the fatalities, over 10,000 carbon monoxide injuries occur annually. But thankfully, this is a completely preventable outcome.
Carbon monoxide can be produced with any burning fuel. That means gasoline, propane, natural gas, oil, wood, and coal. It’s an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas that if inhaled at dangerous levels can lead to brain damage, breathing difficulties, impaired judgment, heart problems, and death.
To understand when you’re at risk, you need to know some common causes of CO poisoning. They include: furnaces, attached garages letting in auto exhaust, improperly vented fireplaces or chimneys, water heaters, indoor grilling, clothes dryers, portable heaters, and basically any gas powered appliance that is broken or installed incorrectly.
Unfortunately, the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning are often confused with those of the flu or food poisoning, leading to deaths that could have be avoided. But if you even partially suspect CO poisoning, go to the emergency room as soon as you can. Headache, nausea, breathlessness, dizziness, as well as loss of consciousness are all symptoms of CO poisoning, so if you or a family member experience any of these, again, call 911 immediately.
Now that you know what CO poisoning is and what the signs are, how do you prevent it from ever happening? Here are a few safety tips and methods of protection:
Install CO alarms. In the state of California, it’s now mandatory that all homes have CO detectors, but your house might not have one. Getting them installed is as simple as getting smoke detectors and will alert you to the invisible gas. Just remember, a smoke detector and a CO detector are not interchangeable, one device will not do the same job as two.
Never keep a car running in a closed garage.
Crack a window whenever you use kerosene or gas heaters.
Always make sure fireplaces and grills are properly ventilated.
Never use a gas oven to heat your home.
Get your heating systems tested annually for possible malfunctions or CO leaks.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is 100% preventable. With a little knowledge, you will protect yourself and the ones you love from harm.