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Avoiding Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Avoiding Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide (CO), an odorless and colorless gas, is the most common cause of poisoning death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year at least 50,000 people visit the emergency department and 430 die due to accidental CO poisoning. Carbon monoxide comes from numerous sources, including car exhausts, furnaces, water heaters, propane refrigerators, and gas stoves. Without proper ventilation, the gas can build up in enclosed or semi-enclosed spaces. This is a real risk for older adults, who often keep their windows sealed with no ventilation to prevent winter drafts and excessive heating bills.

Be aware of the symptoms of CO poisoning, which include drowsiness, headache, visual problems, dry throat, nausea, and vomiting. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. People who are out of shape or suffer from medical conditions such as heart disease and anemia may have a lower tolerance to CO exposure.

One of the best ways to protect yourself from CO poisoning is to install several CO detectors in your home. Prices start as low as $15, and the devices can be purchased online or at your local home improvement store. Experts recommend installing CO detectors on every floor of your house, including the basement. A detector should be located within 10 feet of every bedroom and also near the garage. Most detectors should be replaced every five to six years, and the batteries should be replaced every six months or if the device alerts you that they need replacing. Combination smoke and CO detectors also are available.

In addition to installing CO detectors, make sure that vents, flues, and chimneys are checked for blockages that might trap CO in your home. Have a trained professional check all of your fuel-burning appliances, such as oil and gas furnaces, gas water heaters, gas ranges and ovens, gas dryers, gas or kerosene space heaters, fireplaces, and wood stoves. If your power goes out, don’t use a portable generator indoors. When portable generators are placed in areas such as garages, sheds, or small, enclosed spaces, the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning triples. Never use a gas oven to heat your home—even if it’s only for a short time—and never sleep in a room heated by an unventilated gas or kerosene space heater.

Installing CO monitors throughout your house, keeping your living space well ventilated, and having heating devices inspected before the beginning of the winter season can significantly reduce your risk of CO poisoning and may save your life.

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