Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: Signs and Prevention

What is it? How does it happen? Ways to prevent it from occurring.

A colorless and odorless gas, carbon monoxide poisoning is sometimes referred to as the “silent killer”. It is difficult to know when being exposed to the deadly gas, as the symptoms are hard to diagnose and can include headache, dizziness, weakness, confusion, chest pain and nausea and vomiting. With high enough levels of carbon monoxide exposure, unconsciousness and death can result.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is the result of inhalation of carbon monoxide gas. Carbon monoxide molecules adhere very well to hemoglobin, the component of red blood cells that normally carry oxygen throughout the body. Carbon monoxide molecules tend to take up the sites in the hemoglobin where oxygen usually sits. Within a short period of time, sometimes as quick as a couple of breaths, this displacement can lead to an oxygen depleted state where the body suffers from lack of the necessary quantities of oxygen.

Individuals who are at an increased risk of falling prey to carbon monoxide poisoning include babies, children, seniors, and those with respiratory problems and chronic heart disease.

There are many ways to prevent this potentially fatal occurrence. Many families have made the choice to install carbon monoxide detectors in their homes. When it comes time to change the batteries in the smoke detector, change the carbon monoxide detector batteries as well. This simple device is very effective in detecting even trace amounts of the deadly gas indoors and can save lives.

Activities which may contribute to the buildup of carbon monoxide inside the home and which should always be monitored, inspected annually and used with caution include heating the house with a furnace, gas water heater or a portable butane or gas heater.

As a word of warning, never use a fuel or generator-run appliance in an enclosed space; this includes generators, motors, or vehicles. Many fatalities, both unintentional and intentional are the result of a vehicle running inside of an enclosed space, usually a garage. If the garage is attached to the house, always keep the door between the two spaces closed while warming up the car, even if the garage door is wide open. Fumes from the warming car can enter the house and cause symptoms to appear in animals and humans.

The summer boating season is another time when the number of carbon monoxide cases increases. The generators and motors which power boats can release large amounts of the deadly gas. In most boats, carbon monoxide will most likely accumulate in specific regions such as any space where exhaust gas can become trapped. This may include the inside of a boat’s inadequately ventilated canvas, or in the boat’s cabin. Ensure that the boat’s exhaust outlet is never blocked. Carbon monoxide can also build up while the boat is moving slowly, idling or is at a stop.

To prevent the accidental poisoning or even death during boating season, keep the following in mind:

  • Keep passengers away from regions of the boat where carbon monoxide can accumulate and away from exhaust outlets.
  • Always turn off the engine if passengers will be sitting, surfing or swimming on the back side of the boat where the exhaust outlet is located.
  • If a passenger shows signs of sickness, get them into fresh air immediately and call for medical attention.

And, most importantly, install carbon monoxide detectors and have a yearly vessel safety check.

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