Millions of Americans are stricken to some degree by a silent killer every year. What I’m talking about is carbon monoxide, a common by-product of the combustion process.
Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that strikes without warning. It’s virtually undetectable by human senses. You can’t smell it, you can’t see it, you can’t taste it. It accumulates in enclosed spaces, often while the victims are asleep and a stove or heater is still burning. But you can become a victim while you’re wide awake. That’s because, as carbon monoxide accumulates in your body, it prevents the hemoglobin in blood from delivering oxygen to the cells. Shortage of oxygen to the cells gradually weakens the body and eventually results in unconsciousness. By the time the victim realizes there is a problem, he or she may be too weak to open a door or window, or move outside to fresh air. And as the process continues to deny oxygen to the cells, the victim dies.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning range from a slight headache to nausea, weakness, vomiting, drowsiness and heart palpitations. Eventually the victim may fall into a coma and die. Those with pre-existing respiratory or cardiac conditions are at greatest risk.
Statistics indicate that between 5000 and 10,000 people die annually as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. Nearly 200,000 experience non-fatal CO-induced heart attacks, and about 25-million victims undergo some level of illness that is actually caused by CO poisoning, but misdiagnosed as flu, motion sickness, or food poisoning.
To help prevent excessive exposure to this lethal gas, a quality carbon monoxide detector is an important piece of safety equipment. Monitors should be placed about midway between the floor and ceiling, where it will most effectively detect the presence of the dangerous gas as it circulates freely in the air.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can originate in many places. At home it might be a faulty furnace or fireplace. When traveling or camping, it might be leaky vehicle exhaust system, poorly operating camp appliances, or the exhaust from a portable power generator.
During cold winter weather, some folks are tempted to heat their homes by using a barbecue or hibachi indoors, but this is exceedingly dangerous. The only combustion appliances that should be used indoors are those that are designed for indoor operation and are properly vented. A gas furnace is a good example. And even then, you should have the furnace tested by technicians to make sure the combustion process isn’t spewing out carbon monoxide.
This stuff is a sneaky killer that takes down a lot of people every year. Make sure you aren’t one of the victims. Have your appliances checked, and use a carbon monoxide alarm.