Cold winter weather calls for hot chocolate, warm blankets, and a working heater. But before you raise the temperature on your thermostat or put logs in the fireplace, make sure you know about carbon monoxide (CO).
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can cause flu-like symptoms and lead to death if untreated. In fact, CO kills 400 Americans each year. It is also responsible for more than 20,000 emergency room visits and 4,000 hospitalizations annually. The fumes from burning fuel in engines, lanterns, stoves, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, and furnaces all contain CO.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can affect anyone, but children, the elderly, and people with heart or breathing problems are more likely to get sick. When CO enters the body, it attaches to red blood cells. When this happens, the blood cells can no longer carry oxygen, and the body becomes oxygen-starved. Poisoning symptoms include dizziness, headache, weakness, confusion, upset stomach, vomiting, and chest pain. If you turn on your heater or stoke your fireplace this year and you or a family member experience these symptoms, seek medical help immediately.
Tips to Keep You Safe
Since it is odorless and colorless, it can be hard to tell when carbon monoxide is present. But you can take some basic preventative measures to reduce the risk in your home.
- Install a CO detector. This device is essential, as it is the only way to detect carbon monoxide. Place detectors on each floor of your home. Remember, anyone who is asleep can die from carbon monoxide poisoning before they experience symptoms, so make sure to place detectors in or outside all bedrooms. Local laws may require a particular configuration of carbon monoxide detectors, so check these first.
- Keep batteries fresh. Battery-powered detectors work only if the batteries do, so change them twice a year to keep them fresh, just as you would for your smoke detector. Experts recommend battery changes when switching from standard time to daylight savings time and again when switching back to standard time. If you live somewhere that does not observe daylight savings time, New Year’s Day and the 4th of July are good times to switch out batteries.
- Check the heater. Have a qualified technician check your heating system before winter to ensure it is working properly and is not emitting CO. Also, have technicians check any gas, oil, or coal burning appliances. Do not use portable chemical heaters or burn charcoal indoors.
- Check the vents. Have a qualified technician look at vents to ensure they are in proper position. Carbon monoxide can escape the house if vents are placed properly and working correctly, but may become trapped if they are not.
- Sweep the chimney. Have your chimney checked and cleaned every year. Debris such as leaves, soot, and small animals can block chimneys, making a buildup of carbon monoxide more likely.
- Make good buys. Before you buy any gas appliance, make sure it carries a seal from a national testing agency stating that the appliance does not give off carbon monoxide.
- Remember, ovens are not heaters. Never hear your home with a gas range or oven. Doing so can cause a deadly buildup of carbon monoxide.
While making hot soup, drinking cocoa, and snuggling under a blanket can help keep you warm this winter, it is essential that your home heating system and gas appliances are working properly. If you have your system checked and later experience CO poisoning, contact us at the law firm of Tiano O’Dell, PLLC today for more information about your legal options.