Winter Safety: 5 Ways to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Your Home
Cold winter weather brings many enjoyable activities such as drinking hot chocolate, spending time with family by the fire, or simply bundling up in a warm house with a working heater and a good movie, but it also poses a unique set of safety concerns. Prior to cranking up the temperature on your thermostat or throwing wood into the fireplace, you and your loved ones should familiarize yourselves with carbon monoxide (CO).
What Is Carbon Monoxide and Where Is It Found?
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that is found in fumes produced by burning fuel in automobiles, small engines, fireplaces, stoves, lanterns, grills, furnaces, and gas ranges. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are typically described as being “flu-like,” with the majority of symptoms including upset stomach, headache, vomiting, dizziness, weakness, chest pain, and confusion. While everyone is at risk for CO poisoning, infants, people with chronic heart or breathing issues are more likely to fall ill from carbon monoxide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 400 Americans are killed each year by unintentional CO poisoning. The gas is also responsible for more than 20,000 emergency room visits and 4,000 hospitalizations annually.
What are the symptoms of CO poisoning?
The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. CO symptoms are often described as “flu-like.” If you breathe in a lot of CO it can make you pass out or kill you. People who are sleeping or drunk can die from CO poisoning before they have symptoms.
What are the First Aid Steps for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
There is little to be done at home to treat CO poisoning. First, and always, move the casulaty to fresh air - then, call 9-1-1.
If you are unsure if the cause is CO, call the American Association of Poison Control Centers
Tips to Keep Your Home Safe from CO Poisoning
- Install a battery-powered CO detector. Without a working alarm, you won’t know when there is a carbon monoxide leak. Place detectors on every floor of your home, particularly near sleeping areas, as people who are sleeping can die from CO poisoning before they experience symptoms. For the best possible protection, interconnect CO detectors throughout the home; when one sounds, they all sound. Test CO alarms at least once a month and replace them according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Service your appliances annually. Heating systems, water heaters, and all other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances should be serviced by a qualified technician every year. Do not use portable flameless chemical heaters or burn charcoal indoors and never barbecue in the garage.
- Keep a tidy chimney. Chimneys that are blocked by debris can significantly increase the chances of a CO buildup in your home, making the decision to have your chimney cleaned or checked annually by a professional all the more important.
- Warm up vehicles outdoors. If you must warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately upon starting it. Never leave a running vehicle or other fueled engine indoors, even if garage doors are open. If necessary, make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow.
- Store gasoline safely. Keep gasoline away from all sources of heat and in a locked location where children cannot access it. The safest place to store gasoline is in a detached garage or shed, as common household appliances like dryers and water heaters can start a gasoline fire.
Winter is a time for getting together with family and enjoying the holidays. Make the most out of the holiday season by ensuring the safety of you and your loved ones.
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