As we turn another page in our calendars, many people start to get excited about everything the fall season brings: changing of leaves, cooler weather and festive celebrations. But one thing that many people do not usually associate with the fall is the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide.
Carbon monoxide (CO), a odorless, colorless and toxic gas kills more than 500 people and accounts for an estimated 15,000 emergency department visits each year in the United States. Because it is impossible to see, taste or smell the toxic fumes, CO can kill you or a family member before you are even aware that it is lurking within your home.
Even its symptoms are in disguise. Those affected by CO poisoning show signs of headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea and fatigue, and are usually misdiagnosed with the flu.
“If you suspect CO poisoning, patients should get checked right away. Dangerous levels in the patient can be detected quickly with a simple blood test,” says Lisa Schwing, RN, trauma program manager at Dayton Children’s Hospital. “Suspect CO poisoning when flu-like symptoms exist in more than one person in the household and symptoms seem to lessen in those who spend some time outside the home.”
Many people think that their homes are completely protected from CO poisoning, but that is just not the case. CO is produced anytime a fuel is burned. Therefore, it can come from gas or oil furnaces, water heaters, space heaters and fireplaces, just to name a few.
This is why the CO poisoning strikes more now than any other time in the year. When you heat up your house as the temperatures begin to drop, the “silent killer” can be released without you even knowing.
Three easy precautions to keep your family safe this fall:
1. Install a carbon monoxide detector in every sleeping area. Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless gas that builds up around fuel-burning appliances, cars in garages and is present in tobacco smoke. It can make a child seriously ill in amounts that would barely affect an adult.
2. Make sure that all your heating appliances are installed and operating according to code. Have a professional come install and check your appliances. Heating systems, including chimneys, should be inspected and serviced annually to ensure they are operating properly.
3. Never run your car in an enclosed area. Make sure that everyone in your home, especially new drivers, understands the dangers that can happen if a car is left running in a closed garage. Always start the car with the garage door open or outside, and take the time to check the exhaust pipe to ensure that it is not blocked.
Take this time to secure your home and educate your family on the dangers that could be lurking within.