Signs of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

“The weather outside is frightful, and the fire is so delightful…”

The holiday song never seemed more true. But when the weather turns this bad we get concerned about trying to keep warm. This is the season when carbon monoxide poisonings spike. In some cases, older furnaces are pushed to their limits and alternate heat sources are used – like space heaters, ovens to heat the kitchen, wood stoves and fireplaces not normally used, gas-powered generators and electric space heaters. Some people’s cars are warmed up in the garage, allowing carbon monoxide to build up and seep into the house.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can be sneaky as well as deadly. One of its names is “the great pretender.” Carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless and tasteless, so the only way to know it is present is with a carbon monoxide detector. The Poison Center recommends that each home have a working carbon monoxide detector. Early signs may seem like a virus or the flu. Be alert for these other early symptoms:

•    Headache
•    Nausea
•    Muscle aches
•    Vomiting
•    Fatigue, feeling weak
•    Dulled thinking
•    Are all people in the house feeling sick? (pets?), Do you feel better when you leave the house?

If carbon monoxide levels continue to rise, the symptoms can get much worse, leading to confusion, chest pain, heart attacks, coma and death.

If you suspect carbon monoxide is present, the first thing to do is to leave the area to get to fresh air. Then call the Central Ohio Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 and speak to a specialist (nurse or pharmacist) immediately.

Henry Spiller
Henry Spiller is the director of the Central Ohio Poison Center. He has spent more than 30 years in toxicology, with more than 300 publications in the field. Henry is the proud father of five (3 girls, 2 boys) and an avid soccer player when his aging knees let him play.

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