Thoughtful Parenting: Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning
February 5, 2017
During winter months, even as Northwest Colorado residents enjoy activities in the fresh mountain air, they also tend to spend more time indoors, breathing indoor air. If stoves or furnaces malfunction, families can be at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning, a leading cause of poisoning deaths in the U.S.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, toxic gas — a by-product of the incomplete combustion of fuels. Furnaces, stoves, wood or gas fireplaces, grills, generators, appliances, vehicles and boats can emit carbon monoxide. If these devices are not properly vented, the gas can accumulate to dangerous levels, causing coma and death. Accumulation of the gas could also occur in campers, tents, snow caves, boat cabins and under boat docks.
Carbon monoxide replaces oxygen in the bloodstream and is released very slowly from the body. It's accumulation in the blood affects the body's ability to bring oxygen to vital organs and systems.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to flu symptoms without fever. The gas is particularly dangerous to children, because they breathe faster and inhale more carbon monoxide per pound of body weight. Parents may not think of carbon monoxide poisoning when their children have flu-like symptoms, such as headaches, nausea, dizziness, fainting, breathing difficulty, fatigue and sleepiness.
Daily exposure to low concentrations of carbon monoxide also produces negative health effects, including chronic fatigue, headaches, ringing in the ears, memory loss, mood changes, and impairment of cognitive function. Perinatal death, low birth weight and behavioral concerns may occur in children exposed to carbon monoxide during pregnancy.
Immediately go outdoors or move to a fresh air location, such as, an open window, if you or your family experience carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms. Call 911. Medical treatment may be necessary.
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The following tips can help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
• Install carbon monoxide alarms on every level of the home. Look for the UL Stamp — which denotes Underwriters Laboratories Standard for product safety testing. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for placement, mounting height and battery replacement schedule.
• Never ignore a carbon monoxide alarm. Immediately move your family and pets to a fresh air location outdoors or by an open window or door, then call 911. Schedule a checkup with a healthcare provider if you suspect you or your child have been experiencing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms over time.
• Have furnaces and fireplaces inspected annually. Financial assistance is available through the Low-income Emergency Assistance Program. Applications are available at county social services offices. As snow accumulates on the roofs, make sure vents are clear of snow build-up.
• Never use barbeque or hibachi grills indoors or in enclosed areas. Never use gas stoves as supplemental heat for the home. Only use space heaters approved for indoor use. Don't warm up vehicles in attached garages near doors or windows where exhaust fumes can enter the home. Operate generators at least 20 feet from the house. Consider bringing a carbon monoxide alarm when traveling or camping.
Beth Watson is a registered nurse and an NWCOVNA public health nurse.