Avoid winter’s silent killer

By Shayna Brouker • Published: December 2nd, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

You’re lounging on the couch at your family’s big holiday get-together, digesting that massive dinner you just consumed. All of a sudden, you feel dizzy. Then you’re struck with a headache and nausea. It could very well be that your annoying out-of-state relatives… or too many slices of pie… are making you feel ill, but the culprit could also be carbon monoxide poisoning.

This silent killer is colorless, odorless and tasteless. Carbon monoxide is a gas produced by burning any type of fuel, such as gas, oil or coal. It strikes when fuel-burning appliances don’t get proper ventilation or aren’t used correctly. Common culprits include cars, kerosene space heaters, fireplaces, woodstoves and charcoal grills. Gas appliances such as water heaters, ovens and dryers can cause problems too.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that at least fifteen-thousand people go to the emergency room every year for carbon monoxide poisoning. Poisoning peaks during December and January when more people use heating appliances indoors with windows and doors tightly shut. Well-insulated, newer homes can also trap gases.

Although many victims recover in a few days if treated promptly, death can occur within minutes. If you suspect poisoning, get the victim to an emergency room.

To prevent poisoning altogether, make sure your fireplace chimney is clear of debris. Don’t heat your house with a gas stove, and never use outdoor appliances like charcoal grills indoors. Have a technician test heating systems, water heaters, and other gas-, oil- or coal-burning devices. Lastly, install a carbon monoxide detector. Peace of mind is well worth the investment.