Every year, about 600 Americans die from carbon monoxide, or CO, poisoning. Thousands more are hospitalized, and misdiagnosis is common because its symptoms so closely resemble those of the common cold or flu.
Symptoms can include fatigue, dizziness, nausea, chest pain, confusion, rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing and headache. Worse yet, some victims simply go to sleep and never wake up again. CO is colorless, odorless and tasteless, and since you can’t see it, smell it or even taste it, it is often called the “silent killer.”
Even CO at low levels is extremely dangerous. Long-term exposure to low levels of CO can be very harmful, and can compound many pre-existing health conditions, such as heart and lung disease; anemia; diabetes; depression; and learning and concentration problems. One family member can be affected, while others may have no symptoms at all. Children and elderly family members are often the most severely affected.
Knowing where this deadly gas comes from and how to protect your family can prove extremely important in the battle to keep your family safe.
There are many sources of CO, and it’s caused from incomplete combustion of any fuel-burning appliance. Any fuel-burning appliance or engine can create CO.
The single most important thing you can do to protect your family is to install carbon monoxide detectors on every floor of your home, especially near the sleeping areas or bedrooms. It also is recommended to have at least one “low-level” CO detector in your home. The low-level detector should be installed in the main gathering area of the home.
Another important point to keep in mind is that the average sensor life of a CO detector is only two years. While you might push the test button and hear the alarm sound, it does not mean the sensor is working — it only means that the horn or buzzer works.
You should replace CO detectors every two years or have them tested by a professional with CO test gas every year. Another important factor in keeping your family safe would be to have your furnace and other fuel-burning. appliances professionally tuned up with a safety and CO inspection every year.
It’s a small price to pay. Your family’s safety and well-being are worth it. It’s certainly better than visiting a loved one in the hospital or, worse yet, attending a funeral.
Joel Wensley is a licensed mechanical contractor in the state of Michigan, a WJBK-TV Fox2 Detroit news contributor and president of Mechanical Heating & Cooling in Dearborn Heights.