According to the New Mexico Department of Health, during 2008-2013, there were 1163 emergency room visits, 151 hospital admissions, and 55 deaths among New Mexico residents due to unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning. Nationwide, there are 15,000 emergency room visits and 500 deaths from CO (carbon monoxide) poisoning every year. Why is this happening?
It happens because there are no clear signs that this deadly gas is building up around you. Carbon monoxide (CO) is called the “silent killer” because you can’t see it, smell it, or taste it. It doesn’t irritate your lungs. Yet it’s highly poisonous, and most accidental poisonings occur in the home.
It happens because CO is generated every time you start your car engine, light a kerosene space heater, start your oil or coal furnace, light your propane stove, or build a fire in your wood-burning stove. It’s produced by your gas hot water heater, your clothes dryer and your BBQ grill. Last, but not least, you breathe it in with cigarette smoke, either by smoking or through second hand smoke. Obviously, CO poisonings are more common in winter months. Sadly, nearly half of the victims are sleeping when they are poisoned, so they don’t even know.
At low levels of carbon monoxide, symptoms of poisoning may be confused with the flu. You may start to feel fatigued and perhaps short of breath. You may have a headache. It is quite possible that your motor skills will be impaired.
With higher concentrations or prolonged low levels, you may become nauseous, dizzy, and have trouble thinking. You might experience chest pain. At very high levels, you will probably lose consciousness, become comatose, or die.
CO bonds to the hemoglobin in your blood cells, preventing oxygen from being transported to the tissues in your body. It also binds to myoglobin in your muscles leading to exercise intolerance. Children will succumb more quickly than adults.
Fortunately, almost every case of unintentional CO poisoning is avoidable. Things to watch out for in your home
are: multiple family members with prolonged flu symptoms, wood fires burning slowly, excessive condensation in the home, sooty stains near appliances and pilot lights burning orange instead of blue.
Of course, the easiest way to avoid this, and at the top of the list, should be to install a CO detector. They are inexpensive, and many come combined with a smoke detector.
The recommendation is to replace your CO detector every five years.
To prevent CO from becoming a problem in the first place, you should do the following:
1) Have a professional check and maintain your furnace every year.
2) Never leave your cars
idling in the garage.
3) Have your chimney cleaned before burning a fire.
4) If you are running a generator, never run it in an enclosed space or near an opening (a door or open window) that will put t he exhaust into your home.
5) Do not use your propane stove to heat your home.
6) Make sure your home is well ventilated so there is always a supply of fresh air (such as attic vents, windows that are not too tightly sealed, or doors that can be opened to bring in a good air supply).
This is one 911 call you shouldn’t have to make.