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Prevent Accidental Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

During inclement weather, take extra caution to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning while cooking and heating your home during power outages.

Also, check on your friends, family and neighbors who may be without power, especially those that may not speak English, to ensure they are not unknowingly putting themselves at risk.

What is Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon monoxide, an odorless and colorless gas, is responsible for more deaths in the United States than any other single poison. Carbon monoxide (CO) gas is produced by the incomplete combustion of fuels containing carbon, such as gasoline, wood, natural gas and others. Under certain conditions, fuel-burning appliances in the home — most commonly furnaces and non-electric water heaters — can leak CO, causing a health hazard for occupants.

Avoiding CO poisoning

  • Never use gas or charcoal grills, or other fuel-burning equipment designed for the outdoors, inside your home.
  • Do not run generators or any type of combustion engine (examples include a car, generator or lawn mower) in an enclosed space.
  • Consider installing one or more carbon monoxide detectors in your home. Choose a unit with a “low level” indicator, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installing and testing regularly.

Symptoms
Symptoms such as headache and nausea can seem flu-like, so it’s important to note if more than one household member is simultaneously affected, or if symptoms dissipate when away from home. CO poisoning symptoms may appear sooner in those most susceptible including young children, elderly people, people with heart or lung disease, or those who already have elevated CO blood levels, such as smokers.

Getting Help
If you detect or suspect CO poisoning in yourself or others, here is what to do:

  • Immediately move the victim(s) to fresh air, leaving the affected area open to ventilate.
  • Seek emergency medical help if you note ANY symptoms.

At the hospital, victims of CO poisoning will be evaluated with a blood test, as well as tests for neurological, heart and respiratory function. Severe cases may be referred for hyperbaric oxygen therapy, where patients receive greater amounts of oxygen to their entire body, administered under pressure in a special chamber. The pressurization helps “dissolve” increased oxygen into the blood, rapidly removing the carbon monoxide and allowing the blood to carry oxygen again.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy remains the most effective treatment for severe CO poisoning. However, the best defense against disability and death from CO exposure remains education on the dangers and how to prevent them.

For more information, please contact the Center for Hyperbaric Medicine at (206) 583-6543.