October 2011 Health Beat

Karen’s Kolumn is written by Karen Dolley, R.N. and Grange Friend… we appreciate her knowledge and her willingness to share!

It is that time again when people begin to think about heating their homes. Many of us have already turned on our furnaces or started our wood stoves to “take the chill off” in the early mornings or in the evenings. Most people do not think about carbon monoxide or carbon monoxide poisoning when they begin to plan for a new heating season.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas created when fuels like gas, wood, coal, oil, and propane burn incompletely. The fumes can build up in enclosed places like homes and can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide poisoning claims more than four hundred lives every year and sends twenty thousand people to emergency rooms each year. The most common signs of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea and vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. A person can be poisoned by a small amount of carbon monoxide over a longer period of time or by a large amount of carbon monoxide over a shorter period of time. High levels of carbon monoxide inhalation can cause loss of consciousness and death. People who may be sleeping or who are intoxicated can die before they even experience any symptoms at all. Never use gas generators, charcoal grills, or fuel burning camping heaters and stoves inside homes or in other enclosed places like garages during power outages. If appliances that burn fuel are maintained and used properly, the amount of carbon monoxide produced is usually not dangerous. When appliances are used incorrectly, installed incorrectly, or are not working properly, dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can result.

All heating systems including chimneys and vents should be inspected and serviced every year. Burn charcoal outside only. Do not use gas appliances like stoves, ranges, or clothes dryers to heat your home. Never keep a car running in a garage, even with the door open. Always use generators outdoors away from doors, windows, and vents. Do not use generators in basements or crawl spaces. Install carbon monoxide alarms in the hallway of your home near sleeping areas and test the alarms every month. Don’t sleep in a room with an unvented gas or kerosene heater. Know the signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. If you experience any signs or symptoms you think might be from carbon monoxide poisoning, get fresh air immediately, open doors and windows, leave the house, go to the emergency room or call 911 and tell the doctor or health care provider that you think your symptoms may be from carbon monoxide poisoning. Don’t ignore the symptoms! Plan ahead now for a safe heating season.

For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/co/faqs.htm, www.usfa.fema.gov, www.redcross.org, or www.epa.gov.

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