November 18, 2003
Danger of carbon monoxide poisoning heightened as cold weather arrives
By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—Fall’s first cold snap means it’s time to fire up the family furnace.
But before you switch on your home’s heat source, make sure the equipment is in good working order, says Lauren Fairburn, coordinator of Think First, Methodist Rehabilitation Center’s statewide injury prevention program.
“Malfunctioning furnaces are a common cause of carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas that can cut off oxygen to the heart and brain and kill you,” says Fairburn. “So it’s really important to ensure that all fuel-based heating sources are operating properly.”
In 2002, carbon monoxide poisoning killed 31 people in the United States, says Michael Hughes, director of the Mississippi Regional Poison Control Center at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. That same year, U.S. poison control centers reported 15,904 exposures to the gas.
“There’s a potential for exposure any time there is incomplete combustion of any hydrocarbon-containing fuel,” Hughes said. “You can be exposed at work, at home or in your car.”
Hughes said faulty gas heating system are the most likely cause of carbon monoxide poisoning, but wood heaters, fireplaces and hot water heaters also can be a source of the deadly gas.
Hughes also warns against using heat sources in your home that aren’t supposed to be operated indoors. “In ice storms, people often bring charcoal heaters and kerosene heaters inside and that is extremely dangerous unless the area is ventilated enough to get rid of any potentially toxic accumulation of carbon monoxide or other toxic gases.”
Hughes said people also should be careful about letting their vehicles idle in a closed garage or operating machinery such as forklifts in a non-ventilated environment.
Hughes said symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, impaired judgment, confusion and seizures. “One of the most important things to recognize is it can cause drowsiness and people often go to sleep. But you really don’t want to do that if you have a suspicion it could be carbon monoxide poisoning.”
If you have any doubts about the safety of equipment in your home, Fairburn recommends having a professional heating and air consultant do an inspection. “It’s also a good idea to have a carbon monoxide detector in every sleeping room in your house,” she said. “It could mean the difference between life and death.”
If you suspect carbon monoxide or any other type of poisoning, you may call the Mississippi Regional Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 for assistance.
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With cold comes need to check up on home heaters | The Clarion-Ledger