Q&A: What kind of precautions should I take to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning?
I'm worried about carbon monoxide poisoning this winter. What kind of precautions can I take and what signs should I look for with my infant?
Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is a serious concern, not only for your infant, but for the whole family. Let’s talk about what it is, what its symptoms are, and how you can prevent it.
What Is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs as a result of the buildup of carbon monoxide gas. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, this colorless, odorless gas can build up as a result of burning fuels such as gas, kerosene, wood, and coal in poorly ventilated areas. When the appliance or stove that is burning the fuels is working properly, the amounts of CO produced are so low, they should not be dangerous. However, if they are malfunctioning or not properly ventilated, a toxic buildup of the gas can occur quickly.
What Are the Symptoms of CO Poisoning?
That depends on the levels of CO gas present in the air. The higher the levels, the more serious the symptoms. The problem is that many of these symptoms can be associated with other things such as the flu or stomach bug.
CO poisoning symptoms may include the following:
- Shortness of breath
- Mental confusion
- Increased heart rate
People who are at higher risk for serious side effects, and even death, from CO poisoning include the following: infants; people with cardiovascular disease; pregnant women and their unborn babies; people with a history of respiratory disease; and the elderly. Once CO is inhaled, it binds with the hemoglobin in your blood. Hemoglobin is the part of the red blood cell that normally binds with oxygen. CO is powerful and easily displaces oxygen, thus lowering the available oxygen in your blood. The symptoms are caused as a result of the oxygen deprivation.
How Is CO Poisoning Treated?
First, get out of the affected home or area and into a well-ventilated area. Go to an emergency room and let them know your suspicions. In some cases if the CO poisoning is mild, simply getting out into fresh air will improve symptoms. If the poisoning is more severe, treatment with oxygen is necessary. The possibility of long-lasting physical problems will depend on the length and intensity of the exposure.
How Can CO Poisoning Be Prevented?
- Have your appliances serviced annually.
- Make sure your chimney is cleaned annually.
- Get carbon monoxide detectors for your home and check them regularly to make sure they are functioning properly.
- Leave your home immediately if you suspect CO poisoning.
- Don’t use kerosene or unvented heaters inside, especially while sleeping.
- Don’t idle your car inside your garage.
- Don’t hesitate to call for help.
- Don’t use a stove to heat your home.
- Never use a gas grill inside your home.
- Learn more about prevention by looking over these tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.