While carbon monoxide may come to mind more frequently during winter months, it’s actually a year-round hazard. Knowing how your family can be exposed to carbon monoxide can keep them safe from this colorless, odorless, tasteless, poisonous gas.
Carbon monoxide is produced when you burn fuel in cars or trucks, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges or furnaces. It is one of the leading causes of poisoning deaths in the United States. Carbon monoxide poisoning accounts for approximately 40,000 to 50,000 emergency room visits and 5,000 to 6,000 deaths annually in the United States. Yet all instances of carbon poisonings are preventable.
“Carbon monoxide detectors should be installed in addition to smoke detectors. If your smoke detector goes off and there is a fire, you could be exposed to carbon monoxide. However, you can be exposed to carbon monoxide even if there isn’t a fire. That’s why it’s so important to have both a smoke and carbon monoxide detector in the home,” said Ann Slattery, DrPH, RN, RPh, CSPI, DABAT, managing director, Regional Poison Control Center at Children’s of Alabama.
If your carbon monoxide detector goes off:
- leave the home and immediately seek fresh air
- call 911 for the fire department to inspect the home
- call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 if there are signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure
The most common symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure are headache, fatigue, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion.
“One of the hallmarks of carbon monoxide exposure is multiple people sick at the same time. Unlike a virus that takes its time working through the household, carbon monoxide will affect everyone in the home at the same time.” Slattery said.
As warm weather approaches, you may already be thinking about your favorite outdoor activities. Keep in mind that you could be exposed to carbon monoxide through:
- Generators — Don’t use a generator inside the home, garage or basement or near windows. Spring often brings severe weather to Alabama, so be cautious when using a generator during a power outage.
- Grilling — Never burn charcoal indoors or use a portable camp stove in a garage.
- Camping — Never use a kerosene lantern inside a tent.
- Boating — Carbon monoxide from engine exhaust builds up inside and outside the boat in areas near exhaust vents. Swim and play away from areas where engines vent their exhaust. Dock, beach, or anchor at least 20 feet away from the nearest boat that is running a generator or engine. Exhaust from a nearby vessel can send CO into the cabin and cockpit of a boat.
- Gasoline-powered tools — Never use gasoline-powered tools such as pressure washers and leaf blowers indoors or in a garage, carport or basement. These tools can produce significant amounts of carbon dioxide that can quickly build up to dangerous levels.
The Regional Poison Control Center at Children’s of Alabama was established in 1958. The center handles more than 50,000 poison calls annually, plus more than 60,000 follow-up calls. For more information, visit https://www.childrensal.org/rpcc.