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The danger of carbon monoxide poisoning is very real and most people never even know it's there.

Carbon Monoxide: The Silent Killer

As the storm raged outside, the family slumbered peacefully—secure in the knowledge that their generator was supplying the power to keep them warm. At 2:00 in the morning, the young girl woke her parents, complaining of a headache and stomachache. When she fainted, her family rushed to the hospital, where they were all diagnosed with carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. If the young girl had stayed in the house only 30 minutes longer, the doctor said, she would have died.

The danger of carbon monoxide poisoning is very real and most people never even know it's there.

This scenario is a common one. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 20,000 Americans per year visit the emergency room for CO poisoning, more than 4,000 are hospitalized, and more than 400 die. The risk is especially severe for the very young, the very old, and anybody with breathing problems. A 2014 study published in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that the risks are also higher during and immediately after snowstorms or storms that result in power loss. Portable generators running inside the house without proper ventilation were the cited most common cause of storm-related CO incidents.

Even without the added danger of a large storm, CO poisoning is a year-round danger. Carbon monoxide, which is a by-product of burning fuels, can build up inside an unventilated space and rise to hazardous levels. Unlike some gasses, CO is odorless and colorless, so it is impossible to detect without special equipment. The most common culprits for CO exposure are heating and cooking devices that are either installed incorrectly or are malfunctioning. It is crucial to have an HVAC expert like Johns Heating, Plumbing, and Air Conditioning check your heating system at least once a year to make sure that it is functioning properly and has no leaks that could lead to unintentional carbon monoxide exposure.

Every house should also be equipped with carbon monoxide detectors near every sleeping space. These detectors can be purchased individually, or some home security systems include CO detectors throughout the house. If your CO alarm goes off, leave the premises immediately, and get into fresh air. Symptoms of CO poisoning include headache, dizziness, lightheadedness, and nausea. If you’re experiencing any of these, go to the hospital to get checked out, and call the fire department to check your home. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a real danger, but it’s an avoidable one.