Posted by: Kelley Dees | January 21, 2011

What’s that smell?

Like I’ve mentioned before, I’m a southern girl. I’m still learning all of this “dealing with winter” stuff. We didn’t have gas anything growing up, so moving to a new place where half of my appliances are gas has taken some adjusting for me.

Ever heard of carbon monoxide? It’s a by-product of burning fuel. Given the title of this post, you’d think I would be getting ready to tell you how to smell CO (carbon monoxide) and how to know the smell. Well, that’s the irony.

CO has no smell. You can’t see CO either. But high levels of CO can kill a person in a matter of minutes. Scary, huh? Lucky for you, I AM going to tell you how to prevent CO poisoning.

Symptoms of CO Poisoning

Low levels can cause the following symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Mild nausea
  • Mild headaches

Moderate levels can cause the following symptoms:

  • Severe headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Fainting

Since many of these symptoms are similar to those of the flu, food poisoning, or other illnesses, you may not think that CO poisoning could be the cause. So how do you stay safe?

If you experience symptoms that you think could be from CO poisoning:

  • Get fresh air immediately. Open doors and windows, turn off combustion appliances, and leave the house.
  • Go to an emergency room and tell the physician you suspect CO poisoning. If CO poisoning has occurred, it can be diagnosed by a simple blood test after exposure.

Be prepared to answer the following questions for your doctor:

  • Do your symptoms occur only in the house? Do they disappear or decrease when you leave home and reappear when you return?
  • Is anyone else in your household complaining of similar symptoms? Did everyone’s symptoms appear about the same time?
  • Are you using any fuel-burning appliances in the home? (This includes a gas furnace!)
  • Has anyone inspected your appliances recently? Are you certain they are working properly?

Prevention is the key to avoiding CO poisoning.

  • Have your fuel-burning appliances inspected by a trained professional at the beginning of every heating season. Make certain that the flues and chimneys are connected, in good condition, and not blocked. Some examples of fuel-burning appliances are oil and gas furnaces, gas water heaters, gas ranges and ovens, gas dryers, gas or kerosene space heaters, fireplaces, and wood stoves.
  • Choose appliances that vent their fumes to the outside whenever possible, have them properly installed, and maintain them according to manufacturers’ instructions.
  • Read and follow all of the instructions that accompany any fuel-burning device.
  • Don’t idle the car in a garage–even if the garage door to the outside is open. Fumes can build up to dangerous levels very quickly and can seep in the living areas of your home.
  • Don’t use a gas oven to heat your home, even for a short time.
  • Don’t ever use a charcoal grill indoors–even in a fireplace.
  • Don’t sleep in any room with an unvented gas or kerosene space heater.
  • Don’t use any gasoline-powered engines in enclosed spaces (this includes mowers, weed trimmers, snow blowers, chain saws, small engines, and generators).
  • Don’t ignore symptoms, particularly if more than one person is feeling them. You could lose consciousness and die if you do nothing.

Consider installing a CO monitor. These devices range from inexpensive monitors similar to fire alarms, to high-tech versions that digitally display CO levels. Your local hardware store will have a variety for you to choose from.

This information is provided courtesy of the Wyoming AgrAbility Project. For more information, visit our website or call toll-free at 866-395-4986.

This information is adapted from the U.S. EPA.

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