How to Protect Your Family from Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
As the temperature drops, we are more likely to fire up our gas furnaces and wood-burning stoves to get extra cozy this winter. However, when we use our furnaces and stoves, and spend more time indoors, we are at increased risk of exposure to carbon monoxide.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, invisible gas produced when gasoline, natural gas, propane, kerosene, and other fuels are not completely burned during use. According to the EPA, this gas is one of the leading causes of poisoning death, with more than 400 victims in the United States each year. In addition, more than 4,000 Americans are hospitalized for carbon monoxide poisoning and 20,000 people get sick enough from exposure to visit an emergency room each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Gas furnaces, wood stoves, hot water heaters, gas ranges, and a car running in a closed garage all produce carbon monoxide. Since carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless, an exposed person may not be aware they are being poisoned until it is too late. Unborn babies, infants and persons with heart disease are particularly at risk. Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can be similar to flu symptoms, so knowing that you may potentially have a carbon monoxide leak is crucial.
The EPA recommends that if you experience symptoms that could be from carbon monoxide poisoning, get fresh air immediately. Opening doors and windows, turning off combustion appliances, and leaving the house will help prevent the carbon monoxide from accumulating inside. You should also go to an emergency room and tell the physician you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning. If carbon monoxide poisoning has occurred, it often can be diagnosed by a blood test done soon after exposure.
The EPA recommends the following steps you can take this holiday season to protect yourself and your family from carbon monoxide poisoning:
- Make sure appliances are installed and vented properly.
- Have gas or wood-burning appliances, heating and ventilation systems, inspected regularly.
- Inspect homes after heavy snow fall and make sure snow is removed from around exhaust stacks, vents, and fresh-air intakes.
- Buy a carbon monoxide detector for your home. Keep in mind that installing a detector is not a guarantee of safety, it is just one of the precautions you should take.
Things you should NOT do:
- Use a gas range or oven for heating your home.
- Leave a car running in a closed garage.
- Burn charcoal indoors.
- Operate unvented fuel-burning appliances indoors.
Read more at the US EPA.
Fireplace image via Shutterstock.