How to Keep Your Family Safe from Carbon Monoxide Poisoning This Winter
Including symptoms and how to stay safe all year long.
Now that temperatures are dropping, Americans are cranking up the heat in their homes and cars. And while your furnace keeps you warm and cozy, it also releases carbon monoxide (CO) into the air, which can cause sickness and even death. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "CO poisoning is entirely preventable." Here is what you need to know about "the silent killer" and how to keep you and your family safe from carbon monoxide.
What Is Carbon Monoxide?
You've probably heard of the term, and hopefully, have a CO alarm in your home, but what you might not know is that CO is both colorless and odorless, which makes it especially dangerous. CO comes from the fumes of cars, stoves, fireplaces, grills, and other fuel-burning objects. The CDC reports that 50,000 people visit the emergency room each year from CO poisoning, and at least 430 people die.
Symptoms of CO Poisoning
CO poisoning causes flu-like symptoms, according to the CDC. Sufferers report dizziness, headaches, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. Although everyone is at risk for poisoning—including pets—the elderly, infants, and those with anemia, breathing problems, or chronic heart disease have a higher risk of becoming sick. People who are asleep or intoxicated are also vulnerable because they might miss these warning signs.
How to Prevent CO Poisoning
Every homeowner should have several battery-operated CO alarms in their home. The CDC recommends placing a detector near every area where you sleep so that it can wake you up in case of an emergency. A top-rated option we prefer is First Alert's CO710 Carbon Monoxide Alarm, $45.26, Walmart. Replace the batteries as needed (it will beep when it needs new ones) and replace the entire device every five years.
Your water heater, heating system, chimney, and any appliances that burn gas, oil, or coal should be checked at least once per year by a professional. Also, double-check that your gas devices are vented correctly. Do not use a portable gas stove indoors and never burn charcoal inside your home. Portable generators should also never be used anywhere inside your home, according to the Portable Generator Manufacturers' Association.
Your car also produces CO, so make sure to take your vehicle to a mechanic yearly to check the exhaust system for leaks. Never leave your car running while it's in the garage, even if the door is open.
Incidents of CO poisoning increase in the winter when people use their heating systems more often, but the risk exists year-round. Although it's alarming, you can ensure you stay safe by taking these simple steps.