He said lack of maintenance often is the culprit of carbon monoxide poisoning.
“It can be a mechanical issue with a gas-burning furnace where the heat exchanger might be cracked and that allows the carbon monoxide to go back into the house instead of venting out,” Hathaway said. “[Homeowners] should have [furnaces] maintenanced before the cold season and the fall is the best time.”
He recommended the use of a carbon monoxide detector in the home, as the gas, derived from the burning of fossil fuels, is an odorless and tasteless gas. However, there are warning signs of carbon monoxide poisoning if one does not own a detector.
“Most of the time [people feel] warm and flushed, lethargic — very tired,” Hathaway said. “... What happens is carbon monoxide attaches to your hemoglobin faster than the oxygen and it will block the oxygen.”
Hathaway said if one suspects they have carbon monoxide poisoning they should call 911 and leave the residence.
“Get out of there as fast as possible. Everybody needs to get out of there, whether they’re showing symptoms or not,” he said. “They need to evacuate and leave the doors and windows open to allow [the home] to air out.”
He continued, “We have meters that can test for carbon monoxide levels and they will alarm if it is a dangerous level. If [emergency services] finds that, they’re not going to allow the residents back in their home until they get whatever caused the program fixed or located. It’s not something where you can just air it out and go back in, you have to correct that situation.”
Hathaway said it’s important to be contentious of what devices one uses to heat his home during the winter months.
“In the cold, people are more likely to bring in [more heating sources] into their home, such as propane heaters, and those things are not meant to be brought into your home and used while you are sleeping,” he said. “Any of the alternative heating sources that run on fossil fuels, [for example], the power goes out and someone uses a generator and it’s too close to the house and those fumes are coming back in — even a candle will give off some carbon monoxide.”
The Better Business Bureau, with information obtained from the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, offers the following information so consumers can better understand the dangers and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.
• Have your home heating systems (including chimneys and vents) inspected and serviced annually by a trained service technician.
• Never use portable generators inside homes or garages, even if doors and windows are open. Use generators outside only, far away from the home.
• Never bring a charcoal grill into the house for heating or cooking. Do not barbecue in the garage.
• Never use a gas range or oven for heating.
• Open the fireplace damper before lighting a fire and keep it open until the ashes are cool. An open damper may help prevent build-up of poisonous gases inside the home.
• Install battery-operated carbon monoxide alarms or carbon monoxide alarms with battery backup in your home outside separate sleeping areas.
• Know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning: headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, sleepiness and confusion. If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, get outside to fresh air immediately, and then call 911.
Know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning:
Because carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless, and otherwise undetectable to the human senses, people may not know that they are being exposed.
The initial symptoms of low to moderate carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to the flu (but without the fever).
• Shortness of breath
High level carbon monoxide poisoning results in progressively more severe symptoms, including:
• Mental confusion
• Loss of muscular coordination
• Loss of consciousness
• Ultimately death
The release by BBB further states, “Symptom severity is related to both the carbon monoxide level and the duration of exposure. For slowly developing residential carbon monoxide problems, occupants and/or physicians can mistake mild to moderate carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms for the flu, which sometimes results in tragic deaths. For rapidly developing, high level carbon monoxide exposures (e.g., associated with use of generators in residential spaces), victims can rapidly become mentally confused, and can lose muscle control without having first experienced milder symptoms; they will likely die if not rescued.”