Carbon Monoxide — What You Can't See or Smell Can Kill You
Emergency physicians see the tragic consequences of carbon monoxide poisoning each year, especially during the winter months when people begin using heating devices and stoves to keep warm or use portable generators without proper ventilation.
“This colorless, odorless gas is deadly if you don’t take precautionary steps or notice the symptoms,” said Dr. Andrew Sama with the American College of Emergency Physicians. “Thinking about it now and acting to prevent the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning may save your life and the lives of those around you.”
Carbon monoxide poisoning is responsible for approximately 15,000 emergency department visits and nearly 500 deaths annually in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Emergency physicians urge everyone to spot the potential signs of carbon monoxide poisoning.
A young boy in Boston tragically was killed by carbon monoxide following that city’s blizzard a few weeks ago. He was in a car trying to stay warm but the exhaust pipe of the vehicle was covered in snow forcing carbon monoxide in the car.
Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Include:
- Chest Pain
Carbon monoxide poisoning often is difficult to diagnose because the symptoms mimic other illnesses.
“If you get bad headaches or suffer from any of these symptoms, you may easily confuse them with the flu,” said Dr. Sama. “People should be concerned about the possible presence of carbon monoxide if more than one person living or working together develops these symptoms simultaneously over a short period of time.”
Also, people who are sleeping or intoxicated can die from carbon monoxide poisoning without ever experiencing symptoms, or knowing they are experiencing them.
Of course, we always urge people to call 911 if they feel they may be experiencing an emergency.
Ways to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning
- Have gas appliances installed or maintained by a qualified professional.
- Install a carbon monoxide detector on each level of your home, especially near sleeping areas. If your child is away at college, ask dorm officials or landlords in advance if residences are equipped with working CO alarms. If they aren't, supply your own alarm, as having a CO alarm is virtually the only way to detect this invisible, odorless and tasteless gas.
- Never leave a motor running of a vehicle parked in an enclosed garage.
- Do not use portable flameless chemical heaters indoors. Even if they don’t have flames, they burn case and release carbon monoxide in your homes, cabins or campers.
- Never use a charcoal grill indoors.
- Make sure all gas appliances (grills, camp stoves, power tools, generators, etc.) are properly vented so that carbon monoxide does not build in homes, cabins or campers.
- Turn on the exhaust fan over your gas stove when using it.
- Never burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn’t vented.
- Have your chimney checked and cleaned every year.
- Make sure fireplace flues are open during use.
Read ACEP's Doc Blog: Carbon Monoxide — The Hidden Killer