The year 2018 has started with a bang here in the North Carolina, with Old Man Winter unleashing record-setting cold throughout the region.
Most of us hunkered down indoors through the bitter stretch, relying on our home heating systems to keep us safe and protected. But we shouldn’t take that safety for granted: when we spend all those hours indoors with our furnace cranking out BTUs, we also expose ourselves to risks from carbon monoxide poisoning.
More than 20,000 people visit emergency rooms with symptoms of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning each year – and nearly 40 percent of those visits come in the winter, when our heating systems are running at full tilt.
The good news is the dangers of CO poisoning are preventable with a little education and some diligence. To stay safe, you’ll need to know some CO basics: how to spot the signs of poisoning, how to deal with its symptoms, and how to prevent CO buildup from occurring in the first place.
Carbon monoxide basics
Carbon monoxide is a poisonous, odorless, and colorless gas produced when you burn propane, wood, oil, or any other kind of fuel. Exposure to it can cause illness, disorientation, or, in extreme cases, death.
Carbon monoxide usually accumulates due to poor ventilation or equipment malfunction. A blocked vent or flue, a damaged or poorly maintained heating system, or overuse of an unvented heating appliance can all cause a dangerous CO build-up in your home.
Carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms
Symptoms of CO poisoning worsen with increased exposure to the gas. Limited exposure can cause flu-like symptoms (headaches, nausea, and fatigue). Moderate exposure can cause severe headaches, drowsiness, and disorientation. High exposure can lead to unconsciousness, cardiac arrest, and potentially death. Exposure to carbon monoxide can be especially dangerous for young children, in whom the spread of CO poisoning is more rapid.
If you notice CO poisoning symptoms
Get fresh air immediately. Open windows and doors, then leave the house
Report your symptoms to your doctor
Get a professional inspection for your appliances before using them again
Five ways to prevent CO dangers in your home
Carbon monoxide poisoning is preventable with some sensible preparation and awareness. Here are five of the best ways to prevent CO dangers in your home:
Get your heating equipment serviced every year.An expert will spot issues before they pose risks to your family.
Install a CO detector on every floor of your home. Replace batteries once a year and replace the detector itself every five years.
Keep outdoor exhaust vents clear. Blocked vents can cause a dangerous buildup inside your home. Be sure to clear exhaust vents, flues, and other lines after all storms.
Keep an eye on your pets. If your pet seems sick or unusually slow to awaken, take him or her outside, check your CO detectors, and open windows.
Never start a vehicle indoors. Start your car with the garage door open, and never run it for more than a few minutes.