Silent but Deadly: Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning

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College of DuPage Nursing Student Elly Schmidt wrote for Healthy Lombard that with the shivering midwest winter that is nearly upon us strikes, it is important to be aware of potentially deadly situations that may occur during the winter months. Heavy snow and strong winds often lead to power outages, and the absence of electrical power results in potentially harmful sources of electricity. The American Journal of Public Health (date) advises of some potential hazards during the colder weather resulting from the use of indoor charcoal grills and camping stoves for cooking or heating which may result in high concentrations of carbon monoxide (CO) entering the home. Inappropriate placement of portable gasoline powered generators may result in CO accumulation when generators are operated outside but close enough to carry fumes inside the home, contributing to dangerous amounts of CO gas. CO may be deadly when the concentration is confined to a small place, therefore, it is vital to know appropriate locations for backup generators. They should not be placed anywhere inside or close to the home and in addition, should not be placed in a garage or front porch.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas, that usually is unnoticed when levels become dangerous, resulting in subtle symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headache, confusion, chest pain and fatigue. Symptoms of CO poisoning are consistent with symptoms of other illnesses such as, the seasonal flu or cold, and should therefore, be checked as elevated CO poses a significant threat to families in the home.

In order to prevent carbon monoxide, there are several steps that can be taken.

  1. The first step is in case of a power outage, do not place gasoline powered generators in or near the home.
  2. In addition to appropriate generator placement, attach longer cords to enable placement at a safe distance
  3. Use low CO emission generators
  4. Use an automatic shut off system generator.
  5. Purchase and maintain all CO detectors in the home. It is particularly important to place these carbon monoxide detectors in bedrooms and other areas that would wake sleeping family members.If you are unsure if you or a family member has been affected by carbon monoxide poisoning, an indicator may be that the symptoms go away when you leave the house and come back upon re-entering the house. If you have the slightest feeling that you or a loved one is experiencing CO poisoning, contact emergency health services right away.With these very simple and effective strategies, you can prevent a deadly situation. With the long Midwest winter ahead of us, it is important to keep yourself and your family safe and healthy.



    Henretig, F. M., Calello, D. P., Burns, M. M., O, D. K. A., & Osterhoudt, K. C. (2018). Predictable, Preventable, and Deadly: Epidemic Carbon Monoxide Poisoning After Storms. American Journal of Public Health, 108(10), 1320–1321.



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