Carbon monoxide poisoning (not related to fires) sends more than 20,000 Americans to the emergency room each year. Of those people, over 4,000 require hospitalization and more than 400 die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The risk of carbon monoxide poisoning increases during the winter when Americans run heaters and furnaces to heat their homes. But you can protect your family and prevent carbon monoxide poisoning by taking a few simple precautions.
What is carbon monoxide and where does it come from?
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a tasteless, odorless and colorless gas that is released when fuel is consumed. That means furnaces, cooking stoves and other appliances that burn a fuel source produce carbon monoxide. This gas must be vented to the outside of the home where it dissipates into the air. Sometimes, however, furnaces, heaters and appliances can malfunction and develop a CO leak in your home.
What is CO poisoning?
The hemoglobin in your bloodstream that normally binds the oxygen you breathe in also binds with carbon monoxide. In fact, it binds quicker that oxygen and crowds it out. When this happens, the resulting condition is called CO poisoning. That means your body will not receive the oxygen it needs to function. You can get sick or die because of the lack of oxygen in your bloodstream.
What are the symptoms of CO poisoning?
The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning range from mild headaches to difficulty breathing. You or your family members may experience any or all of the following symptoms, depending on the length of exposure and individual reactions:
- Burning eyes
- Loss of consciousness
- Chest pains
- Difficulty breathing
How do you know you have CO in your home?
You cannot rely on your senses to detect the gas, but carbon monoxide monitors can alert you when the CO levels reach an unsafe level in your home. The devices are similar to smoke detectors and send an alarm to warn you of possible exposure to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. To protect your family, the CDC recommends replacing the CO alarm every five years and changing the batteries every six months.
Tips for Preventing CO Leaks in Your Home
Keeping all appliances that burn fuel in good working order and observing all safety recommendations will minimize the risk of carbon monoxide leaks in the home. Follow these tips to keep your family safe:
- Service your furnace or HVAC system at least once per year.
- Do not use portable kerosene or fuel-burning heaters in the home unless they vent to the outside.
- Make sure gas stoves and appliances are properly vented.
- Do not operate a generator inside the home or garage or within 20 feet of any door, window or vent.