Kent Hospital’s Wound Recovery and Hyperbaric Medicine Center offers a few steps to prevent a tragic carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning in your home or the homes of your friends and family. Kent Hospital is Rhode Island’s largest hyperbaric medicine facility, and the only hospital offering 24- hour emergency hyperbaric oxygen therapy in the region.
“Carbon Monoxide odor is very hazardous to your health, can kill quickly and can be very hard to recognize,” says Lisa Gould, MD, assistant medical director of Kent Hospital’s Wound Recovery and Hyperbaric Medicine Center, and member of Affinity Physicians. “Carbon Monoxide poisoning can ultimately kill you if the exposure levels are high enough or you are exposed to low levels over a long time. Paying proper attention to your home heating equipment, installing and maintaining a carbon monoxide detector and knowing the signs of sickness: shortness of breath, nausea, headaches, dizziness and light-headedness are the keys to preventing a tragedy in your home.”
Sources of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas produced by incomplete burning of fossil fuels – oil, gas, wood, propane, coal. Normally, CO gas is vented safely to the outdoors. However, when vents become blocked by animal nests, improperly installed vent pipes or other means, CO can back up into living spaces and quickly poison the people and pets living there.
Recognizing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon monoxide poisoning can be hard to recognize – low-level exposure may cause no more than flu-like symptoms while toxic levels build up. If flu-like symptoms quickly improve when you leave the home, suspect carbon monoxide poisoning and seek medical attention and get your house checked right away. Fire departments carry the equipment to check house levels when poisoning is reported. Higher exposure levels can cause death (often within minutes) or permanent brain and heart injury. Symptoms may include: shortness of breath, nausea, headaches, dizziness, light-headedness.
Immediate measures to take are:
• Get everyone – including pets – out of the house and into fresh air immediately, then call 911.
• If you can’t get everyone out, open all doors and windows. Turn off any fuel-burning appliances
• Take anyone exposed to carbon monoxide to a hospital emergency room as quickly as possible. A simple blood test will show if carbon monoxide poisoning has occurred and must be done right away.
• Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is available at Kent Hospital to quickly dissipate the CO poison which can save lives and reduce long-term effects of the poison.
Effects of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
CO poisoning can kill quickly. Survivors may experience headache, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, joint pain, chronic fatigue, dizziness, numbness, tingling or vertigo. They may also have effects such as attention problems, short-term memory problems, irritability, anxiety, and sleep disturbance. Blurry or double vision, buzzing in the ears, decreased coordination, and speaking, eating and swallowing disorders are also possible. Some may even experience seizures, balance problems and tremors.
Prevention of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
By far, the best approach to this silent killer is prevention. Some tips are:
• Have your heating system and chimney checked each year before the heating season begins
• Install carbon monoxide detectors in your home, and test them monthly.
Replace as recommended by the manufacturer. The better carbon monoxide detectors will alarm for low levels. Detectors which provide alarm for only highlevels of poison will probably prevent death from CO poisoning but will not alert you to low level poisoning which can cause permanent physical and neurological damage to family members over time.