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The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Winter

Homeowner checking to make sure their Carbon Monoxide Alarm is working

Carbon monoxide is known as the “silent killer” because it’s colorless, odorless and otherwise undetectable until it starts causing harm. Exposure to high concentrations of CO gas can be lethal. Even long-term, low-level exposure can cause prolonged health effects.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 15,000 people are admitted to the hospital each year in the US for accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. About 500 unintentional deaths occur annually because of this silent killer. A majority of victims succumb to poisonous CO gas when they are asleep.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The first symptoms are often mistaken for a cold or the flu. These include:

  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fast pulse

If your entire family develops a “mysterious illness” at the same time, and your symptoms seem to dissipate while you’re away from home, you should suspect a carbon monoxide leak.

Higher concentrations of CO gas cause more severe symptoms, including:

  • Confusion
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Fainting
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Heart attack
  • Death

Tips to Prevent Exposure to CO Gas

Keep your family safe from the silent killer – follow these tips to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Once a year, hire a qualified professional to inspect, clean and tune up your combustion heating equipment and fireplaces.
  • All flames in gas-fired furnaces and stoves should be steady and blue. Watch out for yellow, flickering flames, which could indicate improper combustion and higher-than-normal carbon monoxide levels.
  • Make sure the wood-burning fireplace flue is clear of leaves, pine needles, twigs, bird nests and other obstructions.
  • Do not use coal, charcoal, oil, kerosene or gas-burning appliances, space heaters, grills, camp stoves or generators without proper ventilation. This means you should avoid using them indoors, and keep them away from open windows that could carry combustion fumes inside.
  • Do not attempt to heat your home with the oven, grill, stove or other appliances that aren’t designed for space heating.
  • Do not leave your car idling in the garage with the door closed, and promptly pull out of the garage after starting the engine.
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors outside every sleeping area and on each floor of your home. To avoid false alarms, locate these devices at least 15 feet from gas-burning appliances. Change the batteries every year to ensure uninterrupted
  • If a carbon monoxide detector goes off, shut off all combustion appliances, open windows and doors for ventilation, leave your home, and call a qualified technician to inspect and repair any problems.
  • If you start to feel lightheaded, dizzy or nauseous for no apparent reason, go outside and take deep breaths. If your symptoms return when you go back inside, leave the house and seek medical attention.

Avoiding the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning is just one aspect of emergency preparedness. For more safety tips, or for help recovering from a disaster, please contact DKI Services.