Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless, tasteless and non-irritating gas. That’s what makes it so dangerous. You can’t see it, taste it or smell it. As the temperatures drop, the dangers increase. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a real concern, and the effects can be devastating.
Why Carbon Monoxide Is Dangerous
Carbon monoxide is the number one deadly poisoning in America today. According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 400 people in the United States die each year from accidental CO poisoning. Nearly 50,000 people in the United States end up in emergency rooms and more than 4,000 are hospitalized each year.
Over the past year, Omaha has been hit with numerous cases of CO poisoning requiring medical attention. A family of 10 had no idea their Christmas party would be interrupted by such an incident. What started with their charcoal grill holiday tradition ended with a call to 911. The 10 family members were overwhelmed with symptoms and eventually ended up at Nebraska Medical Center to receive hyperbaric oxygen therapy . Luckily everyone recovered.
Not everyone is so lucky. Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause heart, nerve and brain damage. “Preventing these effects is the primary goal of hyperbaric oxygen treatment,” says Jeffrey Cooper, MD, emergency medicine and medical director of the hyperbaric unit. “With early intervention and proper care, we can significantly reduce these risks. Nebraska Medicine is the only facility with critical care capacity and 24-hour availability to deal with emergencies. I am proud to our dedicated and highly trained team and the care they provide provide for the needs of our patients.”
No one is immune to the dangers of carbon monoxide. In truth, everyone is at risk. The elderly, infants and people with chronic illnesses are particularly vulnerable.
7 symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning
Symptoms of carbon monoxide can range from mild to severe. “Symptoms are vague at first and can be as simple as a headache or flu-like symptoms,” says Dr. Cooper. “It’s concerning if multiple people are showing symptoms. That’s why carbon monoxide detectors on every floor of your home are so important. These detectors can alert you to danger before you even realize you have symptoms. .”
If you breathe in a large amount of carbon monoxide, you may pass out without noticing any symptoms.
Common symptoms can include:
- Headaches, dizziness
- chest pain
- Loss of muscle coordination
Where does carbon monoxide come from
Produced by fuel combustion, CO gas accumulates in enclosed spaces. Ventilation does not guarantee safety. Using fuel tools in the basement, even with the windows open, or starting your car with the garage door ajar isn’t enough.
Be careful even when using fuel-burning equipment outdoors. “We’ve had cases of people being overcome with carbon monoxide while using a gasoline or diesel engine outdoors,” says Dr Cooper. “These engines emit huge amounts of carbon monoxide.”
Carbon monoxide is generated by combustion appliances, equipment and vehicles such as:
- Cars or trucks
- Small engines
- Gas stoves, kerosene lanterns
- Gas and Charcoal Grills
- portable generators
- Fireplaces, furnaces
- Flameless Portable Chemical Heaters
How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Remember that only working detectors can protect you. Protect yourself and your family by taking the following steps:
- Install a battery-powered or battery-backed carbon monoxide detector on every level of your home
- Carbon monoxide can easily pass through drywall. If you live in an apartment, make sure a CO detector is installed and working
- Test the detectors monthly and replace the detector battery in the spring and fall when you change clocks. Do not disable a detector by borrowing its battery for another use
- Replace each detector every 5-10 years
- Check your car or truck’s exhaust system every year
- Never drive a car or truck inside a garage, especially one attached to a house, even with the garage door open
- Stay up-to-date on annual maintenance and servicing of the heating system, water heater, and any other gas, oil, or coal-fired appliances by a qualified technician
- If you smell an odor coming from a gas appliance, have it repaired by an expert.
- Only buy gas equipment bearing the seal of a national testing agency
- Have your chimney checked or cleaned every year
- Never heat a room with a gas stove or oven
- Never burn charcoal indoors. Burning coal releases carbon monoxide
- Never use a portable gas camping stove indoors
- Never use a generator inside your home, basement or garage. When using it outdoors, keep it 20 feet away from any window, door or vent
What to do if your carbon monoxide alarm goes off
Never ignore a carbon monoxide alarm. Don’t even try to find the gas source.
- Get out into the fresh air immediately
- Call 911
- Make sure everyone in the house is accounted for
- Do not go inside until invited to do so.
If you live in Omaha City, the Omaha Fire Department offers homeowners a free combination of carbon monoxide and smoke detectors. With awareness and a few small actions, you can keep yourself and your family safe.