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What You Need to Know to Protect Your Family From Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

This colorless, odorless gas is a byproduct from the burning of fossil fuels, like oil, charcoal, coal or gas

Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) toxicologists have some advice on how you and your family can avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide is often referred to as the silent killer. The odorless and colorless gas is a byproduct of fuel-burning appliances, such as gas-powered generators or fuel-burning camp stoves, lanterns, gas grills or portable heaters. These items should never be used indoors or in unventilated spaces such as a basement or an enclosed garage.  

“Most carbon monoxide poisoning cases happen during colder months,” says Gillian Beauchamp, MD, Vice Chair, Emergency Medicine, Medical Toxicology, LVHN. “Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs due to improperly ventilated appliances or engines, or running a space heater or generator in a tightly sealed enclosed space. Carbon monoxide poisoning can lead to serious illness and even death if not caught.”

Carbon monoxide poisoning signs and symptoms to know

Carbon monoxide poisoning is especially dangerous because it is so difficult to detect. In most cases, people don’t know they are experiencing carbon monoxide poisoning until they are seeking care for symptoms.

“Carbon monoxide can affect your brain, your heart and your ability to breathe. It can cause chest pain, abnormal heart rhythms and in severe cases can cause death by cardiac arrest,” says emergency medicine physician Kira Weaver, DO, with Lehigh Valley Hospital–Hazleton.

If you think you or your family is being exposed to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide, you should immediately get fresh air and seek emergency medical attention. - Kira Weaver, DO

Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs when there is too much carbon monoxide in the air and your body begins to replace oxygen in your red blood cells with carbon monoxide. Some of the symptoms you may experience include:

  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Loss of consciousness

Although the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning can be subtle, the condition can be a life-threatening emergency. Weaver says if you think you or your family is being exposed to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide, you should immediately get fresh air and seek emergency medical attention.

How to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning and keep your family safe

The best way to protect your family from carbon monoxide poisoning is to install a carbon monoxide detector. It’s recommended that carbon monoxide detectors be placed on each level of your home and the basement.

Other ways to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning include:

  • Have your heating system, water heater and other gas, coal or oil burning appliances looked at by a qualified technician yearly.
  • Don’t use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove or other gasoline or charcoal-burning devices inside your home, basement or garage.
  • Never run a car inside an attached garage, even if you leave the door open.
  • Avoid burning anything in a stove or fireplace that isn’t vented.
  • Don’t heat your home with a gas oven.
  • Keep generators, pressure washers or any gasoline-powered engine more than 20 feet from any window, door or vent.
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