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How to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning during the winter months

Posted: 3:45 PM, Dec 28, 2021
Updated: 2021-12-29 02:50:22-05
Carbon Monoxide December 28, 2021

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — During the winter months when temperatures are low many people turn their heating systems on for hours increasing the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide comes from products of combustion, whether it's natural gas, gasoline, wood, or coal and incomplete combustion of those products can produce CO.

According to the CDC, 430 people die in the US from accidental Carbon Monoxide poisoning.

Chief Brian Bowman Battalion Chief for Bakersfield Fire Department said that while it’s not something they encounter every day it’s important to be aware of the dangers of CO poisoning because death from it can be prevented.

What is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

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.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas produced by burning 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.

- Mayo Clinic

“CO is a colorless, odorless gas that can cause, headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, loss of consciousness, or even death,” said Bowman.

Approximately 50,000 people nationwide visit the emergency room each year because of CO poisoning.

What are the Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

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's a problem.

- Mayo Clinic

To help protect your family from getting CO poisoning you can properly vent and maintain those fuel-burning appliances.

Gary Flanagan president of Econo Air, an air conditioning and heating company in Bakersfield said the best thing you can do is install and maintain CO alarms in your home.

The Bakersfield Fire Department agrees with Flanagan adding the advice of making sure to follow instructions.

“The best thing is to follow manufacturer guidelines. So, if we are going to use our stoves and our ovens, we are going to use them to cook,” said Bowman. “We’re going to use them for what they’re specified to be used for, we’re not going to use them all day long with the doors open to heat our homes. If we’re going to use some type of fuel-burning heater or cooking appliance, then we are going to use it outdoors.”

The CDC also said you should check or change the batteries in your CO detector every six months, have your systems serviced every year, keep vents free of debris, and never leave the motor running in a vehicle parked in an enclosed space and more.

Bowman said their firefighters do carry handheld CO monitors with them to test the air for carbon monoxide when responding to calls.

“We do get calls for carbon monoxide, alarms going off, we do carry handheld monitors in all of our apparatus so that we can go in and test the air if we do detect, CO in the air above normal levels than the best thing we can do is evacuate the occupants, treat them medically and then ventilate the house,” said Bowman.

If you have any symptoms, Parthiban Munnainathan, the Associate Medical Director with Omni Family Health said you should consider the fact that you may have CO poisoning.

“But if you have these appliances that might be producing it or if you have an old fireplace or anything that is constantly burning, and you feel headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and you also notice that other family members feel this way too, than its good to suspect it,” said Munnainathan.

Munnainathan also added that if you are experiencing symptoms, you should first leave that area that may be causing you to have symptoms and call 911 for immediate help.

How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Install carbon monoxide detectors. Put one in the hallway near each sleeping area in your house. Check the batteries every time you check your smoke detector batteries — at least twice a year.

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.

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.

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

Ask your utility company about yearly checkups for all gas appliances, including your furnace.

- Mayo Clinic