Carbon Monoxide: Stay Safe from the ‘Silent Killer’

January 19th, 2022  Topics: Safety

When winter weather settles in, the risk for accidental carbon monoxide poisoning increases. And unfortunately, we’ve already seen local families impacted.

In December, a Sellersville woman died, and her husband and son needed emergency care, after a faulty home appliance leaked carbon monoxide. Two days into 2022, a man and a woman in South Central Pennsylvania died from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning after a car was left running in their garage.

“About 430 people in the U.S. die from carbon monoxide poisoning each year, and 50,000 others seek medical attention in Emergency Rooms,” says trauma surgeon Forrest Fernandez, MD, with Grand View Health’s Level II Adult Trauma Center. “Seeing the impact locally here is heartbreaking.”

Engines that power cars, trucks and portable generators emit carbon monoxide. So too do fuel-burning devices like stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, furnaces and gas ranges. If too much carbon monoxide builds up inside a garage, a shed, a house or any other enclosed space, it can be deadly to both people and animals.

Most troubling is that you can’t see, taste or smell carbon monoxide. And if you’re sleeping or inebriated when carbon monoxide fills a room, you could die without experiencing any symptoms.

Let’s take a deeper look at what carbon monoxide poisoning is and how you can help prevent it.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

While it’s called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide poisoning does bring some tell-tale symptoms, which may include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Upset stomach
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion

What to do if you experience these symptoms.

“If you believe carbon monoxide poisoning is causing any of these symptoms for you or someone you love, get everyone outside and into fresh air immediately, and then call 911,” Fernandez says.

7 Steps to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Here are seven things you can do right now to reduce you and your family’s risk for carbon monoxide poisoning:

  1. Install carbon monoxide detectors on every floor of your house. Make sure there’s one near each bedroom and test them each month. Change the batteries often. “Daylight Saving time began last Saturday, and that’s a good reminder to check the batteries in your carbon monoxide detectors twice a year,” Fernandez says. Because there are different types of carbon monoxide alarms (battery-operated, hardwired with battery backup and sealed), always follow manufacturers’ instructions regarding changing batteries.
  2. Don’t use portable generators inside your home, basement or garage. As a general rule, keep generators at least 20 feet away from any door, window or vent.
  3. Don’t use a gas oven to heat your home.
  4. Get your chimney cleaned and checked every year, and make sure your fireplace damper is open before starting a fire.
  5. Don’t warm up your car while it’s in the garage, even if the door is open.
  6. Check your dryer vents and keep them clear of any debris or snow.
  7. Get all gas-burning appliances serviced at least once a year to ensure they’re in good working order.

The Grand View Health Level II Adult Trauma Center is prepared to respond to emergencies like accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Learn more about our Trauma Center.