Monday, November 09, 2015


Keeping the family safe from carbon monoxide poisoning

Silent but deadly. No, this is not the latest Gone Girl-like thriller but a major health risk to you and your family. Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning kills approximately 170 people in the United States each year (not including those from fire and automobile related CO poisoning), according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Due to its nature, these deaths are typically unexpected and sudden. Luckily, with just a few simple steps you can keep your family safe.

What is carbon monoxide? Carbon monoxide is a clear, odorless gas that cannot be detected by human sight or sense of smell, which is what can make it so dangerous. It can come from a variety of common household sources including many fuel burning appliances like gas stoves, charcoal and gas grills, generators, unvented gas fireplaces, and water heaters. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to those of the flu and can include fatigue, headache, dizziness, and nausea. Ultimately, carbon monoxide poisoning can lead to a loss of consciousness, significant brain damage, and in the end death.

How to stay safe. There are easy ways to protect your family against carbon monoxide poisoning. First, if your family does not have a carbon monoxide detector, stop what you are doing and go get one. It can easily be purchased and is relatively inexpensive. Many retail stores like Target, Wal-Mart, and Home Depot carry CO detectors that can be plugged right into an outlet at home and cost around $25 a piece. The Connecticut Department of Public Health recommends getting carbon monoxide detectors with a backup battery and testing them every year to make sure they are functioning properly. There should be a detector near each bedroom area in your house in order to make sure everyone is safe.

In addition, don’t run gas powered appliances or tools in small enclosed spaces like a garage or basement. This is especially important as winter looms -- people have died from carbon monoxide poisoning because they run generators or snow blowers within their garage. If the power goes out, do not run your car in your garage to stay warm, or use the stove or oven to heat your house. Have your appliances and heating system checked and cleaned every year and replace any faulty car exhaust.

It is also important to be aware of signs of carbon monoxide poisoning should a problem occur. If you experience flu-like symptoms that go away when you leave the house and reoccur when you return home, and if everyone in the household experiences the same symptoms at the same time, that could indicate carbon monoxide poisoning.

Importantly, CO poisoning can be reversed if caught in time. If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, leave your home immediately. Once you have left your house, call either 911 or the Connecticut poison control center (800-222-1222) to test the carbon monoxide levels within your house, and do not return until you have been told it is safe to do so.

It is surprising how many patients report on office visits that they have no CO detectors and are unaware of the severe consequences of carbon monoxide poisoning.

We often carry a “that could never happen to me” mentality, but I recently had a patient come into the office discuss how a high CO reading at her house had terrified her. While the reading was immediately redone and turned out to be an error in the reading device, the fear this mother had for her and her children remains.

With just a few easy solutions you can prevent this concern and protect your family. Let’s vow to reserve the term “silent but deadly” for the next great American psychological thriller and leave CO poisoning as a thing of the past. Now that my CO detector is in place, I think I’ll get to work on that novel.

Katelyn Cusmano is a Backus Hospital Volunteer and a UConn Medical School MD Candidate for the class of 2018. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Cusmano or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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