Carbon Monoxide Risks

Carbon monoxide. You can’t see it or smell it, but it can cause death or severe brain damage within a very short amount of time. Known as the “silent killer”, carbon monoxide (or CO) prevents the body from getting the oxygen it needs to live.

Every year, more than 20,000 people in the United States go to emergency rooms with accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. More than 4,000 of those will end up hospitalized, and over 400 will die. Let Ocean State Air Conditioning in Neptune Beach help keep you from becoming one of those numbers.

What does carbon monoxide do?

Red blood cells have an easier time taking on carbon monoxide than they do oxygen. When the air holds a great deal of carbon monoxide, it may replace the oxygen in the blood. This prevents the red blood cells from taking oxygen to the body, which can starve major organs and cause damage or death.

While everyone is at risk, elderly people, infants, people with anemia, and people with heart or breathing problems are the most susceptible to carbon monoxide’s effects.

Where does carbon monoxide come from?

Carbon monoxide is a product of burning fuels. Fuels like kerosene, propane, coal, wood, oil, gasoline, and natural gas give off carbon monoxide as they burn. When this happens in an unventilated or improperly ventilated space, the fumes can build up to toxic levels.

Fireplaces, furnaces, barbecue grills, and gas stoves all produce carbon monoxide. Gas hot water heaters can do the same. These appliances can become hazards if not maintained correctly.

A vehicle running in an enclosed space can fill the area with carbon monoxide. However, a blocked exhaust system can vent into the passenger space and fill the car itself. Closed windows trap the gas inside and can kill both the driver and any passengers.

Other potential culprits include portable generators, power tools, like lawn mowers, chain saws, and non-electric space heaters.

What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

The initial symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may resemble the flu. An affected person might have headaches, nausea, or drowsiness. More symptoms include weakness, loss of muscle control, shortness of breath, and chest tightness.

The affected person’s vision might change, and their skin might redden. They may even become confused, or have small behavioral changes. While in a vehicle, driving may be impaired.

Because symptoms can resemble the flu, it can be difficult to recognize carbon monoxide poisoning. If more than one member of a household feels sick, but feels better when leaving the area for a while, carbon monoxide may be the cause. The flu takes several days to pass from one person to another. If more than one person becomes sick at the same time, it could be carbon monoxide.

What do I do if I suspect carbon monoxide?

Get out of the area right away! Make sure everyone in the house is accounted for. Go somewhere with plenty of fresh air. If you can, turn off all nearby non-electric appliances. Leave the doors open as you go outside. Call 911.

Carbon monoxide can confuse or muddle those who inhale it. It’s important to remember, the longer you are exposed to carbon monoxide, the more difficult it can be to make decisions.

What about carbon monoxide alarms?

A carbon monoxide alarm can provide an effective warning system. They are inexpensive, and work in a similar way to smoke alarms. When levels of carbon monoxide in the air turn dangerous, the alarm sounds.

Choose a carbon monoxide alarm which is either battery powered, or has a battery backup. Read the manufacturer’s instructions on placement and installation. They work best in a central location, and outside each sleeping area, with at least one on each floor of the building. For better protection still, invest in an interconnected alarm system. When one alarm goes off, they all go off.

Be sure to clean and test your alarms once a month. Batteries drain, and sensors reach the end of their lives. Replace them when they don’t respond to a test, or when their end-of-life alert sounds.

How can I prevent accidental carbon monoxide poisoning?

Accidental carbon monoxide poisoning is largely preventable! A few simple precautions can help protect your family.

  • Open the damper before you use the fireplace to vent the smoke and fumes.
  • Don’t use your oven or stove for heat. The gas can fill your home.
  • Be certain your non-electric space heaters are installed and vented properly, and have regular inspections and maintenance.
  • Use barbecue grills outside, in well-ventilated areas away from windows or vents which lead inside. Never use them inside, or in the garage, even if the doors are open.
  • Only use tools such as chainsaws, lawn mowers, and power washers outside.
  • Make sure the vents for dryers, stoves, and furnaces aren’t blocked by debris.
  • Never run a car, truck, or motorcycle inside a garage, even with the door open.

The most important precaution you can take is regular maintenance by a trained professional. Have heating and cooling equipment, such as hot water heaters, stoves, and furnaces inspected every year. Routine maintenance and cleaning are easy but vital steps to prevent this silent killer.

Ocean State Air Conditioning & Heating provides a wide range of services to help you keep your family safe and comfortable, including extended on-call hours and emergency maintenance. It is our goal to provide the best customer service and also maintain your heating and cooling system with the highest levels of excellence. We offer free estimates to our customers. Call today to schedule yours.

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