Winter sure has its share of hazards — from hypothermia to frostbite, heart attacks due to shoveling snow, and, of course, treacherous driving conditions.
But there’s something else you can add to that list of dangers: carbon monoxide poisoning.
I’m sure that you’ve heard stories on the news about the lives lost to this invisible killer — deaths that could have been easily prevented if only a handful of precautions had been taken.
And these are precautions that you want to think about now — especially during the winter months, when well-insulated homes, along with ice and snow, can increase your chances of falling victim to this invisible menace.
New Jersey mom Sashalynn Rosa and her two young children were sitting in their car with the engine running to stay warm while her husband shoveled snow away from the vehicle after a blizzard.
But they never realized that the snow had also blocked the exhaust pipe.
The carbon monoxide (a.k.a. CO) fumes that filled the car as a result quickly killed Rosa and her 1-year-old son, while her 3-year-old daughter died a short time later at the hospital.
And that’s just one of the ways this stealth killer can strike you down quickly.
Eleven-year-old Jeffrey Williams was on a family vacation when CO took his life. The boy died in a North Carolina Best Western motel after CO fumes from a malfunctioning swimming pool heating system seeped into the family’s room, also seriously injuring his mom.
There was no CO detector in the room (unbelievably, only 13 states require them, and even in those locales, the detectors might only be in the main lobby or dining areas!).
Now, you might that think if you’ve installed a CO detector (or one combined with a smoke detector) in your home, you and your family are protected. But that’s not always the case.
You need to install multiple detectors — outside of sleeping areas and on each floor.
And that fancy hotel room you booked for your family vacation? It may not have one.
But that doesn’t mean you’re not at risk for CO poisoning.
An investigation by USA Today done in 2012 found that eight people died, 170 were treated for injuries, and more than 1,000 had to be evacuated from hotels around the U.S. due to CO — all in a three-year period. And since no official records are being tallied, the paper had to get those figures by tracking down news stories from across the country!
Fortunately, small and inexpensive battery-powered CO detectors are sold everywhere — so the same kind you would use in your home can easily be taken along with you and placed near your bed wherever you’re staying.
While exposure to a lot of CO can kill you by suffocation — and can do so in as little as five minutes — even being exposed to low levels of it can wreak havoc on your health in not-so-pleasant ways.
For starters, it can make you dizzy and tired. It can also give you headaches. And those are just a couple of the signs that CO is depriving you of the oxygen supply you need.
Exposure to constant low levels of carbon monoxide can even cause heart and brain damage.
Such tragedies, however, can be avoided with a few basic precautions:
- If your car is covered with snow, never start it without checking to make sure that the tailpipe is free and clear.
- Don’t idle your car inside a closed garage.
- When using a generator, be sure to keep it outside of the house, more than 20 feet from your home, doors, or windows (as well as any neighboring ones).
- Check to see that all heating and dryer vents are clear of snow (and that applies to furnaces as well, as seven residents of a Virginia apartment complex having been hospitalized after the vents of a ground-floor furnace room were blocked by snow).
- When using a fireplace, be sure the flue is open.
- Never use your stove for heating.
- Be sure that any gas appliances are adequately ventilated, and open a window slightly if necessary.
But despite all those precautions, if you and other household members are frequently short of breath and having headaches — especially if you feel better outdoors — you may need to have your blood levels of CO checked by your doctor.
In worst-case scenarios, however, if someone is unconscious due to this gas, you’ll need to act fast by calling 911 and moving them to fresh air ASAP.
“Carbon monoxide hazards rise in wintry weather” HeathDay, January 22, 2018, consumer.healthday.com