Winter is here and the temperatures are dropping, which means now is the perfect time to make sure your family is protected from carbon monoxide.
Carbon monoxide is often called the "silent killer," because of its ability to take lives quickly and quietly. It's virtually undetectable by humans because it's colorless, odorless and tasteless. In high enough concentrations it can kill within minutes and claims hundreds of lives each year.
Intermountain treats numerous carbon monoxide poisonings a year. Dr. Lindell Weaver, medical director of the Hyperbaric Medicine Center at Intermountain Medical Center and LDS Hospital, said, "As temperatures get colder and Utahns turn on their heaters they need to also remember to protect themselves and their families from this deadly gas."
Here are four things to know to keep you and your family safe this winter.
Schedule an annual check-up for your furnace and hot water heater.
It's important to have all gas-fired furnaces and hot water heaters checked by heating and air conditioning (HVAC) professionals annually. Furnaces can crack and exhaust vents can become obstructed.
"Carbon monoxide is often produced from a faulty furnace or other heating sources inside the home. Exposures to carbon monoxide also comes from automobile exhaust, small gas engines, and other fuel operated machines being used in poorly ventilated spaces," said Weaver.
Every home and business should have a carbon monoxide alarm.
Carbon monoxide alarms should meet the UL2034 standard. Alarms with a digital display add an additional level of protection. It's possible for carbon monoxide to be present in levels that will show on the digital display but lower than the level necessary to trigger an alarm.
If your digital carbon monoxide alarm detects even a low level of gas, have the area checked by the gas company or an HVAC specialist.
Anyone with prior carbon monoxide poisoning, the young, the elderly, those with health problems, and pregnant women should consider a low-level CO alarm. These will sound an alarm with exposure to CO levels considerably lower than the UL2034 alarms.
Replace your carbon monoxide alarm every five years and consider bringing one along when you travel.
Carbon monoxide alarms designed to sound at lower than that of residential alarms are available at www.coexperts.com.
Be aware of symptoms.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can be lethal, sometimes with no advance sign of trouble. This is especially true when people are exposed during their sleep and are unaware or unable to call for help.
"Nausea, tiredness, aches, and pains are just some of the carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms – they are very similar to the flu," said Weaver. "If you suspect you have been exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide you should leave immediately and seek help."
At Intermountain's hyperbaric medicine department, carbon monoxide-poisoned patients are treated with hyperbaric oxygen delivered by breathing pure oxygen while inside a pressurized hyperbaric chamber, to reduce the chance of permanent brain damage.
Although treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning reduces the risk of possible permanent brain or cardiac injury, disability can still occur. "It's vital that people take the necessary precautions to prevent and avoid carbon monoxide exposure, as it's the best way to keep everyone safe," said Weaver.
For more information of carbon monoxide and other health tips, visit intermountainhealthcare.org.