Why is it so dangerous?
You’ve always heard that you shouldn’t run your car with the garage door closed because it’s unsafe. However, you’ve never really understood why it was so important. Well, it has to do with carbon monoxide and how bad it is for your health. What exactly does it do? How do you know if you have carbon monoxide poisoning? What do you need to do to treat it?
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas created by burning certain types of fuel, such as gasoline, wood, propane, or charcoal. Usually, this isn’t a concern. The issue is if this occurs in a closed or partially closed space, resulting in carbon monoxide building to dangerous levels. This can also happen if certain appliances or engines aren’t properly ventilated or from smoke inhalation during a fire.
When carbon monoxide levels are high, and you breathe this air in, it attaches to your red blood cells, blocking them from carrying oxygen. This means your tissues and organs aren’t getting enough oxygen, causing significant problems, like brain damage or damage to your heart, and may result in death if not corrected quickly. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can include a dull headache, weakness, dizziness, nausea/vomiting, shortness of breath, confusion, blurred vision, and loss of consciousness. Typically, symptoms depend on the degree and length of exposure. This is why it’s particularly dangerous for sleeping or intoxicated people because they might have significant complications before they realize there’s a problem.
Certain groups are more prone to complications, like unborn babies, children, the elderly, and those with chronic health conditions. Unborn babies are more at risk because fetal blood cells absorb carbon monoxide more readily than adult blood cells. Children breathe at a faster rate than adults, so they’ll inhale more carbon monoxide more quickly. Older adults are at greater risk of developing brain damage if they have carbon monoxide poisoning. Individuals with chronic heart disease, anemia, or breathing problems are more likely to get sick if exposed to carbon monoxide.
The first step in carbon monoxide poisoning treatment is to get into fresh air immediately and call 911. The next step occurs at the hospital and may involve breathing pure oxygen or being put in a hyperbaric chamber. Pure oxygen is delivered through a mask placed over your nose and mouth. The goal is to help oxygen reach your organs and tissues. If you can’t breathe on your own, a machine (ventilator) will do it for you. A hyperbaric chamber involves breathing pure oxygen in a chamber where the air pressure is about two to three times higher than normal. This speeds the replacement of carbon monoxide with oxygen in your blood, helping protect your heart and brain since they’re the most vulnerable. It’s typically only used for severe cases. However, it may be recommended for pregnant women because unborn babies are more susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning.
When it comes to preventing carbon monoxide poisoning, there are several things you can do. The most important is to install carbon monoxide detectors in the hallway near each sleeping area in your house, motor home, or boat. You should check the batteries every time you check your smoke detector batteries, which is at least twice a year. If the alarm sounds, leave the area and call 911. For fuel-burning appliances and engines, including space heaters, furnaces, charcoal grills, cooking ranges, water heaters, fireplaces, portable generators, wood-burning stoves, and car/truck engines, ensure they’re adequately vented. Always make sure to open the garage door before starting your car. Also, never leave your vehicle running in your garage, even with the garage door open. When it comes to gas appliances, use them as recommended (don’t use a gas stove or oven to heat your home). For portable gas camp stoves, only use them outdoors. If you have a fuel-burning space heater, only use it when someone is awake to monitor it and keep doors or windows open to provide fresh air. Never run a generator in an enclosed space. If you have a fireplace, have it cleaned every year.
If carbon monoxide poisoning occurred in your home, you must find and repair the source before staying there again. Also, be cautious when working with solvents in a closed area. Methylene chloride, a solvent commonly found in paint and varnish removers, can break down into carbon monoxide when inhaled. So, when working with solvents, use them only outdoors or in well-ventilated areas. Always read the instructions and follow the safety precautions on the label.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is an incredibly serious condition that requires prompt treatment so you can make a full recovery. If you have any questions or concerns about carbon monoxide poisoning, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) carbon monoxide poisoning page at https://www.cdc.gov/co/faqs.htm