By Susan Smith Kline
Cold weather is here and the need to stay warm has become a top priority. On January 4th, there was a tragic death of an Iron County family with two 9 month old twin boys. An entire family gone, it is truly heartbreaking. They were using a kerosene heater to keep warm. We all need to be aware of carbon monoxide, what it is, how it occurs and what we can do to safely heat our homes.
Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs when carbon monoxide builds up in your bloodstream. When too much carbon monoxide is in the air, your body replaces the oxygen in your red blood cells with carbon monoxide. This can lead to serious tissue damage, or even death.
It is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is produced by burning kerosene, gasoline, wood, propane, charcoal or other fuel. Improperly ventilated appliances and engines, particularly in a tightly sealed or enclosed space, may allow carbon monoxide to accumulate to dangerous levels. The molecules of carbon monoxide are so small, they can easily travel through drywall and carbon monoxide doesn’t sink or rise – it mixes easily with the air inside a home.
Various fuel-burning appliances and engines produce carbon monoxide. The amount of carbon monoxide produced by these sources usually isn’t cause for concern. But if they are used in a closed or partially closed space the carbon monoxide can build to dangerous levels.
Signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may include:
• Dull headache
•Nausea or vomiting
• Shortness of breath
• Blurred vision
• Loss of consciousness
Carbon monoxide poisoning can be particularly dangerous for people who are sleeping or intoxicated. People may have irreversible brain damage or even die before anyone realizes there is a problem.
The warning signs of carbon monoxide poisoning can be subtle. But the condition is a life-threatening medical emergency. If you think you or someone you are with may have carbon monoxide poisoning, get into fresh air and seek emergency medical care.
Depending on the degree and length of exposure, carbon monoxide poisoning can cause:
Permanent brain damage
Damage to your heart, possibly leading to life-threatening cardiac complications.
Fetal death or miscarriage
Some ways to prevent carbon monoxide build up:
• Open the garage door before starting your car. Never leave your car running in your garage. Be particularly cautious if you have an attached garage. Leaving your car running in a space attached to the rest of your house is never safe, even with the garage door open.
• Use gas appliances as recommended. Never use a gas stove or oven to heat your home. Use portable gas camp stoves outdoors only. Use fuel-burning space heaters only when someone is awake to monitor them and doors or windows are open to provide fresh air.
Don’t run a generator in an enclosed space, such as the basement or garage.
If you have a fireplace, keep it in good repair.
Keep your fuel-burning appliances and engines properly vented. These include:
• Space heaters
• Charcoal grills
• Cooking ranges
• Water heaters
• Portable generators
• Wood-burning stoves
• Car and truck engines
Installing carbon monoxide detectors can save your life. Put one in the hallway near each sleeping area in your house, at least five feet from the ground.
You can get a carbon monoxide detector at Walmart for $12. If you run any fuel-burning appliances in your home, please use a carbon monoxide detector. If you know someone who uses a fuel-burning appliance in their home, maybe you can gift them a detector. It just may save their life.