Winter brings more than just bitter cold temperatures and slippery surfaces. Illnesses and fatalities caused by carbon monoxide poisonings soar in the winter months, mostly due to failed and improperly functioning heating solutions. With February’s weather proving to be unpredictable, Connecticut residents should be aware of all the carbon monoxide risks in their home and how to prevent future fatalities from occurring.
Carbon Monoxide: The Silent Killer
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a highly fatal gas known as the ‘silent killer’ for its odorless scent and appearance. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 5,000 people are treated in emergency rooms across the United States for CO poisoning every year. Shockingly, this number is conceived to be even higher due to the fact that carbon monoxide poisoning is often misdiagnosed and documented as other illnesses such as the flu.
At least two people die every day in the month of January from Carbon Monoxide poisoning due to fuel powered heating solutions that release carbon monoxide into the home. Since January is generally the coldest month of the year, the higher rate of CO deaths is explainable. However, bitterly cold temperatures are still on the horizon for this season which could bring a new onset of CO fatalities in the month of February if residents are not careful.
Appliances posing carbon monoxide poisoning risks
Carbon monoxide is found in the fumes released from dozens of appliances we keep around our home all year round. Any appliance that runs on the following fuels can produce harmful CO gases:
- natural gas
- diesel fuel
The winter months, however, prove to be especially deadly due to the number of heating appliances that release carbon monoxide indoors or near windows, doors, and vents. These products allow for CO to become trapped and circulate freely within the home, exposing those inside to air contaminated with the fatal gas. The most common sources of CO in the winter months come from appliances such as:
- space heaters
- portable generators
- gas stoves (when used for heat)
- water heaters
- wood stoves
- cars running inside garages
Signs of CO Poisoning
Far too many people are killed while they are sleeping due to undetected carbon monoxide levels in the home. In these cases, sadly, there is little to be done if there is no CO detector installed to wake residents and alert them to evacuate.
Though carbon monoxide cannot be seen or smelled, there are some common symptoms to watch out for that could indicate a CO leak is present in your home:
- unexplained fatigue
- trouble breathing
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can be easily passed off as other ailments such as the flu. If you or a loved one experiences a sudden onset of these symptoms (while in the home), and have not come in contact with anyone who has been diagnosed with the flu, check your CO levels to ensure your family is safe before going to bed for the night.
Unfortunately, these symptoms are not allows experienced when there are harmful levels of CO in the home. If you or anyone in your family does display these symptoms, it’s extremely important to exit the house immediately and not return until first responders have cleared you for reentry.
Most At Risk for CO Poisoning
Anyone can be at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning if they are not careful, but some populations are more at risk than others of becoming extremely ill from even minimal exposure. People who have a history of heart disease or anemia, infants, and individuals over the age of 65 are most at risk for complications when CO is present in the home. Making sure to place CO detectors directly in the rooms of at-risk individuals will help prevent long term exposure if any carbon monoxide is present.
How To Prevent CO Poisoning
The most distressing fact about carbon monoxide deaths is that they are 100% preventable using the appropriate measures. All homeowners and renters should be making sure they take the following safety steps highlighted by the CDC to reduce the occurrence of CO leaks that can lead to serious illnesses and unnecessary fatalities this winter:
- Make sure all your heating appliances are properly maintained and serviced.
- Install battery-operated or battery back-up CO detectors in your home.
- Seek immediate medical attention if you believe you have been exposed to carbon monoxide.
- Do not use any gasoline or charcoal-burning devices inside of your home or in the basement or attached garage.
- If you run your car before you get in, make sure it is outside or partially outside with the garage door open to allow the exhaust to dissipate.
- Do not burn anything in a stove or fireplace that has not been serviced or cleaned.
- Never use your gas oven to heat your home.
- Make sure generators are at least 20 feet from windows, doors, or vents.
There are no natural and obvious warning signs to alert you when carbon monoxide is present. If you suspect a carbon monoxide leak in your home, get out first and call 911 immediately after for assistance.
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