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CO is a colorless, odorless gas made when fuel burns. Fuels include wood, gasoline, coal, natural gas, or kerosene. Breathing in carbon monoxide fumes prevents oxygen from being used properly by the body. It also causes harm to the central nervous system. People with health problems, such as heart and lung disease, are at greater risk for harm. Infants, children, pregnant women, and older adults are also at greater risk.
Most carbon monoxide exposures happen in the winter. The most common source of CO poisoning is unvented space heaters in the home. An unvented space heater uses combustible fuel and indoor air for the heating process. It vents the gases it makes into the room, instead of outdoors. A space heater that is not installed right or not working properly can release carbon monoxide and other toxic fumes into the room and use up much of the oxygen in the room.
Most space heaters use kerosene or natural gas for fuel. Newer models have oxygen sensors that shut off the heater when the oxygen level in the room falls below a certain level. Older models do not have this safety feature. Because of these safety problems, unvented space heaters have been banned in some states.
Other common sources of carbon monoxide include the following:
These are the most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning:
The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may look like other medical conditions or problems, including the flu or food poisoning. Always consult your health care provider for a diagnosis.
If your child or other family members have any symptoms of CO poisoning, stay calm but act quickly:
Further treatment for carbon monoxide exposure will be determined by your health care provider. Emergency medical treatment may include oxygen therapy. Blood tests, chest X-ray, and a heart and neurological tests may also be done.
According to the CDC, more than 400 people die each year in the U.S. from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Important steps to protect against carbon monoxide poisoning include:
Consult your health care provider right away if you think you or a member of your family has carbon monoxide poisoning.
Bayhealth is Southern Delaware’s healthcare leader with hospitals in Dover and in Milford. Bayhealth provides a wide range of medical services, including cardiovascular, cancer, orthopaedics and rehabilitation, pediatrics, respiratory care, sleep care, surgical weight loss and women’s services.