Carbon monoxide dangers
Diane Noton-Coale, MD, is a physician at Washakie Medical Center in Worland, Wyo.
Question: What should you know about carbon monoxide poisoning?
Answer: Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas produced when fossil fuels are burned. This gas is normally vented into the atmosphere. If your system isn’t venting properly, has a leak, or if exhaust is building up in a closed space for any reason, you and your loved ones are at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Sources of carbon monoxide include :
- gas furnaces
- water heaters
- car exhaust
- cook stoves
- gas and diesel-fueled generators
- engine fumes.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is the leading cause of death by poisoning in the United States, causing 400 deaths and affecting more than 20,000 people per year according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms often mimic other illnesses. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning differ based on amount and time of exposure. The most common symptoms include headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, confusion, and weakness. They may seem like a sudden onset of a flu-like illness. High levels of CO inhalation can cause loss of consciousness and sudden death.
If you suspect you have been or are being exposed to CO, open your windows, move to fresh air and seek immediate medical attention.
Usually high dose oxygen can alleviate your symptoms. However, at high levels, people may need hyperbaric oxygen therapy which will require transport to either Casper or Billings, Wyo. Generally, most people who seek medical treatment for CO poisoning recover completely. In rare cases, some are left with long term neurological and/or psychiatric impairment.
- An easy way to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning is to install a carbon monoxide detector in your house.
- Have your heating system, water heater, and any gas burning appliances checked yearly.
- Do not run your car or truck inside your garage, even if the door is left open.
- Do not use a generator, camp stove, or BBQ grill indoors.
- Do not heat your house with your gas oven.
- Lastly, have your fireplace chimney checked yearly. Built up debris can keep toxic fumes from escaping properly.
Don’t hesitate to seek medical attention if you suspect you are suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. Washakie Medical Center emergency department provides 24 hour care, 7 days a week.