During the coldest months of winter, it’s always good to ensure your heating sources are used properly to avoid what health experts refer to as “the silent killer” – carbon monoxide (CO).
Carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas, claims the lives of more than 400 citizens annually when carbon-based fuels, such as gasoline, natural gas, oil, charcoal or wood, are burned without enough oxygen present. The toxic CO fumes then accumulate in nearby areas, poisoning any people or animals nearby. CO poisoning occurs more often as a result of power outages from hurricanes and winter storms when fuel is used in an enclosed area.
“It is important in these cold temperatures to use your sources of heat safely. Make sure your furnace is working properly and that it is well ventilated. Carbon monoxide poisoning can be common during cold temperatures and heavy use of an unventilated heat or power source,” said Dr. Jasbir Dhillon, an emergency physician with NorthCrest Medical Center’s emergency department in Springfield, Tenn.
Also referred to as “the great masquerader,” carbon monoxide exposure comes with a variety of flu-like symptoms, ranging from headaches and dizziness to nausea and loss of consciousness. It is important to recognize the difference between everyday sickness and CO poisoning.
Dr. Donna Seger, professor of clinical medicine at Vanderbilt University and the Tennessee Poison Center’s medical director, claims that even for those who manage to survive CO poisoning, “it’s not something that goes away.” Seger believes that the poisoning can not only lead to death, but severe and permanent changes to personality, mood and cognitive abilities. Some even have experienced memory loss to such a degree where they have become incapacitated.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) there are a number of ways to prevent CO poisoning from occurring:
- Never leave the motor running in a vehicle parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed space, such as a garage.
- Never run a generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine inside a basement, garage, or other enclosed structure, even if the doors or windows are open, unless the equipment is professionally installed and vented. Keep vents and flues free of debris, especially if winds are high.
- Never use a gas range or oven to heat a home.
- Never run a motor vehicle, generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine outside an open window, door, or vent where exhaust can vent into an enclosed area.
- Never use a charcoal grill, hibachi, lantern, or portable camping stove inside a home, tent, or camper.