Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
12/24/2004

Each year, nearly 200 people in the United States die from carbon monoxide poisoning and many others will go to the hospital to be treated. Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless, and poisonous gas that is produced whenever any fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal is burned. Fuel-burning appliances that are not working properly or are installed incorrectly can produce fatal concentrations of carbon monoxide in a home.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends consumers have a professional inspection of all fuel-burning heating systems, including furnaces, boilers, fireplaces, water heaters, space heaters, chimneys, flues and vents. The yearly professional inspection should also include an:

  • Inspection check on chimneys, flues and vents for leakage, blockage by debris, and to make sure they are not loose or disconnected.
  • Inspection check for appliance operation to ensure proper fuel input rate, gas pressure, and operating temperatures.
  • Inspection check of appliances for gas leaks and adequate ventilation

Prevention is the key to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. In addition to the annual inspection, you should:

  • Install a CO alarm near bedrooms and on each floor of your home.
  • Never use charcoal or other grills indoors or in the garage.
  • Not leave your car's engine running while it is in the garage.
  • Put weather stripping around the door between the garage and the house.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is more pronounced during the winter season. Many of the symptoms are similar to the flu and food poisoning so people don't think of carbon monoxide poisoning as the cause.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include severe headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, confusion, shortness of breath and fainting. Play it safe, if you experience these symptoms, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends that you:

  • Get fresh air immediately. Open doors and windows, turn off combustion appliances and leave the house. 
  • Go to the emergency room.  Tell the physician you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide poisoning can often be diagnosed by a blood test done soon after exposure.
  • Be prepared to answer the following questions for the doctor:
    • Do your symptoms occur only in the house? Do they disappear or decrease when you leave home and reappear when you return?
    • Is anyone else in your household complaining of similar symptoms? Did everyone's symptoms appear about the same time?
    • Are you using any fuel-burning appliances in the home?
    • Has anyone inspected your appliances lately? Are you certain they are working properly?

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