Wintertime brings the highest risk for carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, which is the leading cause of poisoning deaths in the US. This “silent killer” poisons thousands of people per year, resulting in over 400 deaths on average. Those averages are higher between November and February, with peak CO risk occurring in December.
In wintertime people spend more time indoors, with the heat up and the windows and doors closed. This lack of ventilation allows for a greater risk of CO poisoning, as the invisible, odorless gas can build up in your home over time. Here’s what you need to know to keep your home free of CO buildup throughout the winter and all year long.
What Causes Carbon Monoxide Emissions?
Carbon monoxide emissions occur whenever fuel is burned. If the levels of CO remain controlled and low, then there will not be a problem. However, if there is a system or appliance malfunction due to age, lack of maintenance, or misuse, an excessive amount of carbon monoxide can back up into your home, which will make you sick and can even be fatal.
Heating systems are the most common culprit when it comes to CO emission. However, other systems and devices can cause an excess of carbon monoxide in the air. These include chimneys, blocked dryer vents, generators, running automobiles, grills, and any gas-fueled tool.
What Does Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Feel Like?
CO poisoning shows up much like the flu. This contributes to fatalities, as many people do not think that their illness is related to carbon monoxide poisoning. If you experience any of the following symptoms, seek medical care.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning:
- Irregular breathing
You will not experience a fever along with these symptoms, which is the best way to differentiate between the flu or a cold and CO poisoning. Very high levels of exposure will likely cause unconsciousness and death.
Who is at the Highest Risk of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
Babies, young children, the elderly, and any persons with underlying health conditions are at a higher risk than others. This applies especially to those who are anemic or have a history of heart disease personally or in their family.
What Can You Do to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Exposure?
1. Keep Your Generator Outside
If the power goes out and you must use your generator, keep it outdoors. A good rule is anywhere from 10-15 feet from your home.
2. Maintain Your Furnace
Furnaces are at high risk for CO emission if not properly maintained. Have yours checked at least annually to ensure it is working correctly.
3. Clean Your Fireplace
If your fireplace flue is clogged, it can cause a CO backup. Don’t light a fire until you’ve cleaned your fireplace’s flue.
4. Use Your Vents
When cooking on a gas stove, make sure you’re using your vents to encourage proper ventilation in your space. Run your fans as well throughout the cooking process, especially if the stove is going to be in use for a long period of time.
5. Check Your Carbon Monoxide Monitors
There is no need to get sick with CO poisoning if you have proper monitoring in place. If you don’t already have them, install carbon monoxide monitors all through your home to make sure any increase in the gas is quickly detected. Regularly test your CO alarms and replace them at least every seven years.
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