In an attempt to maintain my glass-half-full view of the world, I’m always relieved when I sit down to read the morning paper and come across a good tragedy-averted story interspersed amongst the doom and gloom. So believe me when I say I was particularly happy to read John Schreier’s article, Carbon monoxide sickens students. While it’s unfortunate that more than 40 UNL students recently wound up at the hospital after waking to symptoms consistent with carbon monoxide poisoning, the operative word in this description would have to be “waking.” Because the fact of the matter is that carbon monoxide is one of the leading causes of poisoning deaths in the United States. Often dubbed “the silent killer,” this toxic gas is colorless, tasteless and odorless, but has the deadly ability to disrupt the body’s use of oxygen. In other words, things could have been worse at the UNL fraternity house. Much worse.
Recognizing this, my thoughts immediately turned to the fact that this near-tragedy (with its thankfully happy ending) might momentarily grab people’s attention long enough for me to convey some very important safety information.
I certainly don’t mean to imply that no one would pay attention to information about carbon monoxide precautions except in times of tragedy. But human nature has me convinced that it’s all too easy for the out-of-sight, out-of-mind principle to take over – especially when it comes to the many hidden and/or silent dangers around the house and a not-so-subtle reminder of these dangers can go a long way towards helping focus everyone’s attention on the following simple yet potentially life-saving home safety measures.
- Recognize the potential signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Symptoms can admittedly be non-specific, variable and wide-ranging, but most commonly include headache, nausea, dizziness, and a general feeling of malaise that can be confused for a viral infection. See a doctor right away if everyone in the household begins to experience flu-like symptoms at the same time, especially if the symptoms seem to get better upon leaving the house
- Have the number to Poison Control (1-800-222-1222) posted by the phone and don’t hesitate to call it should you suspect CO poisoning.
- Make sure to put a CO detector on each level of your home.
- Never leave a car running in the garage, even if the garage door is open. Dangerous fumes can not only fill the garage in minutes, but also easily seep their way into the house.
- Get household appliances that have the potential to leak carbon monoxide such as furnaces, wood stoves, fireplaces, gas water heaters, ovens, stoves and clothes dryers serviced yearly to make sure they are in good working order.
- Refrain from using charcoal grills indoors (or in closed-in spaces) and never use a gas oven to provide heat for your home, as both can be dangerous sources of carbon monoxide gas.