Carbon monoxide (CO) is an invisible, odorless gas that is a byproduct of burning organic fuels.
What is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
Carbon monoxide poisoning happens when fuel is burned improperly and carbon monoxide gases are released in the home. You ingest carbon monoxide through the simple act of breathing. After carbon monoxide has entered the body through your lungs, it hampers your blood from transporting oxygen through your body.
The earliest symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headaches and nausea. These symptoms are followed by unclear thinking, shortness of breath, weakness, and loss of muscle control. Severe symptoms include convulsions, unconsciousness, and death.
Every year, unintentional CO exposure accounts for an estimated 15,000 emergency room visits and 500 unintentional deaths.
How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
The Connecticut Poison Control Center notes that you can prevent carbon monoxide poisonings by doing the following:
- Hire a professional to install your heating
- Clean the chimney and heating equipment each winter before using it
- Inspect the ventilation of all appliances
- Install carbon monoxide detectors in your home and garage
- Check your vehicle regularly
- Never leave your car running in the garage
- Never sleep inside a running car
- Repair your lawn mower and other gas or oil powered equipment in the fresh air
We would add to this list: NEVER run a generator indoors, and NEVER use outdoor appliances (like kerosene heaters and grills) indoors.
What To Do If You Think You May Have CO Poisoning
If your CO detector goes off, or if you have symptoms that lead you to suspect that you or your family could have been exposed to carbon monoxide, you should:
- Evacuate everyone to fresh air
- Call 911
When carbon monoxide poisoning is suspected, Washington Fire and Ambulance will respond in tandem. The Fire Department will be able to measure the level of carbon monoxide in your home and to begin ventilation of your home. Washington Ambulance personnel will evaluate your symptoms, and treat and transport you as appropriate, depending on the severity of your symptoms.
The treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning depends on the severity of the case. The most important and immediate treatment is to remove yourself from the area where gas may be present. In mild cases, your body may recover without further interventions. Patients with more serious exposure and symptoms will be given oxygen and brought to the hospital for further evaluation and treatment. The most severe cases will likely be treated in specialized hyperbaric chambers.