Reduce risk of carbon monoxide poisoning this winter
The risk for carbon monoxide exposure, a preventable poisoning that kills more than 500 people a year, rises during cold weather, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC says that more than half the cases unintentional exposure to carbon monoxide occurred between November and February, and carbon monoxide exposure accounts for some 15,000 emergency room visits annually.
Carbon monoxide is dangerous because "it's a colorless, odorless gas produced by burning fossil fuels in gas- and oil-burning furnaces, portable generators, water heaters, vehicles and other engines," said Lisa Washburn, assistant professor-health for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
It's also deadly because "it binds to red blood cells much easier and faster than oxygen, so if the air becomes saturated with CO, it can replace oxygen in the blood stream," she said. "When there is no oxygen available to organs and tissues, death can result."
Carbon monoxide poisoning is preventable.
--Install a battery-operated CO detector and inspect it regularly.
--Have all gas elements (e.g., furnaces, stoves/ovens, water heaters) inspected every year by a professional.
--Purchase new gas equipment with a seal from a national testing agency (i.e., CSA Group).
--Have a mechanic check vehicle exhaust.
--Make sure all gas elements are properly vented to prevent CO buildup.
--If your CO detector goes off, leave immediately and call 911.
--Don't use gas stove elements for heating.
--Don't use portable generators indoors; keep them at least 20 feet away from the house.
--Don't grill indoors.
--Don't leave a vehicle running a garage with the garage door closed.
Symptoms can include headaches, dizziness, vomiting, chest pain, confusion, seizures, impaired vision and coordination, reddening of the skin and loss of consciousness.
Long-term effects include memory problems, behavior/personality changes, cognitive issues, impaired brain function and permanent damage to organs such as the heart and lungs.
"CO poisoning can be hard to diagnose because many of the symptoms mimic the flu without fever and other illnesses," Washburn said. "It more easily affects young children; pregnant women; elderly people; people with anemia, lung disease, or heart disease; and people that smoke or live at high altitudes."