Protect Yourself Indoors from a ‘Silent Killer’

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Winter is almost upon us, waiting outside the door, and will soon give its unmistakable knock. Well, at least for most of the states — Hawaii, Louisiana, and Florida, for example, don’t know the same kind of winter that Minnesota, Michigan, New York, and others do. And for Canadian readers of Doctors Health Press, they’ll tell you that winter is a very threatening visitor indeed.

 So what does winter bring? Winter means homes are heated again, windows are shut, and the prospect of what experts call a “silent killer” turns into reality. All of us would do well to take steps to minimize the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning indoors. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are teaming up to remind homeowners about this invisible and odorless health threat.

 They urge people to order a professional inspection of any heat sources in their houses, as well as vents and chimneys to ensure they are working order. A yearly inspection and the installation of carbon monoxide alarms in the house are the best preventive methods. They will alert you to a problematic heating system, which is the leading cause of poisoning. Other causes include idling cars in garages and gas-powered generators used during power outages.

 The silent killer results in the preventable deaths of about 500 U.S. residents each year. That number, the groups point out, is five times as high as the annual victims of West Nile, which gets all sorts of attention in the media. Another 15,000 Americans are accidentally exposed to the poisonous gas, resulting in headaches, nausea, chest pain, confusion, dizziness, vomiting, and overall weakness.

 Carbon monoxide poisoning is a “persistent and tragic” health problem that can be fully eliminated if people take simple steps to protect the air in their homes. Here are some of them:

 1) Have a qualified technician service your heating system, water heater, and all appliances that use gas, oil, or coal, each year. 2) Put carbon monoxide detectors that run on batteries in your home. 3) Smoke alarms should be on each level of your house. 4) Replace batteries on these items each time you change your clocks in the spring and fall. 5) If a carbon monoxide alarm sounds, leave your home and call 911 for help. 6) If you suspect poisoning (dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea), get medical attention. 7) Have any chimneys or flues inspected before each heating season. 8) Open the fireplace damper before you light a fire, and keep it warm until the ashes have cooled.