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Protect Your Home From Carbon Monoxide

January Is One of the Worst Months for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

From the WebMD Archives

Jan. 21, 2005 -- Accidental exposure to carbon monoxide kills hundreds of people and sends thousands more to hospital emergency rooms every year, says the CDC.

In the U.S., 480 people died of unintentional carbon monoxide exposure during 2001-2002. Another 15,200 were treated in hospital emergency rooms after accidentally breathing in the colorless, odorless, poisonous gas during 2001-2003.

All these instances occurred during nonfire-related events.

Most of the nonfatal cases -- 64% -- occurred at home, while 21% happened in public settings. Men and women were equally likely to seek emergency medical care, but men were 2.3 times more likely than women to die from accidental carbon monoxide exposure.

The findings are reported in the CDC's Jan. 21 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Winter Most Dangerous

December and January were the worst two months of the year for accidental carbon monoxide exposure. Deaths and emergency room visits peaked during those months.

That's probably due to home heating problems. Faulty furnaces were the biggest culprit, causing just more than 18% of cases. Another 9% were linked to cars and other vehicles.

Carbon monoxide results from the incomplete combustion of fuels such as natural or liquefied petroleum gas, oil, wood, or coal. That makes furnaces, generators, gas heaters, and motor vehicles possible causes of carbon monoxide exposure.

Most Common Symptoms

The most common symptom was headache, which was reported in almost 38% of cases. Dizziness and nausea also occurred frequently. They were reported in 18% and 17% of cases, respectively.

Severe symptoms were rarer. Nearly 8% of patients lost consciousness, about 7% had shortness of breath, and almost 4% lost muscle control.

Prevention and Treatment Tips

The CDC offers these tips to avoid or treat carbon monoxide exposure:

  • Service your appliances annually. Have your heating system, water heater, and any other gas-, oil-, or coal-burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
  • Install a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector in your home. Only about 9% of emergency room carbon monoxide patients said they had a carbon monoxide detector at home. However, all of those people said their detector alerted them to carbon monoxide's presence.
  • Keep a fresh battery in your carbon monoxide detector. Change or replace the battery each spring and fall, when you change your clocks to or from daylight-saving time. While you're at it, change your smoke detector's battery then, too.
  • If your carbon monoxide detector sounds, evacuate your home immediately and call 911.
  • Seek prompt medical attention if you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed, or nauseated.
  • Do not use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gasoline- or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement, or garage or near a window.
  • Don't run a car or truck inside a garage attached to your house, even if you leave the door open.
  • Do not burn anything in a stove or fireplace that is not vented.
  • Do not heat your house with a gas oven.

Show Sources

SOURCES: CDC, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Jan. 21, 2005; vol 54: pp 36-39. News release, CDC. Reuters.
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