Winter Safety Alert! Being a couch potato really could kill you!

It’s winter.  It’s cold.  We’re all staying inside.  You wouldn’t think that spending an afternoon on the couch could be a life-threatening activity, but if you don’t have a carbon monoxide (CO) detector, it could be just that.  There have already been several deaths by CO poisoning in Ohio this year, so we thought it was a good time to review what CO is and why it’s so important to have a CO detector in your home!

What is CO and how do poisonings happen?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a toxic gas produced by devices using gas, oil, kerosene, or wood.  Room space heaters, furnaces, charcoal grills, fireplaces, water heaters, and automobiles all produce CO.  Older appliances (such as old furnaces or water heaters) can produce dangerously high levels if they haven’t been checked and serviced in a while.  Winter is an especially risky time for CO poisoning because homes are usually closed up tight to keep out the cold.  And because CO is colorless, odorless, tasteless and non-irritating, dangerously high levels can accumulate in homes without any warning signs. 

What are the signs and symptoms of CO poisoning? How will I know if I have it?

The initial symptoms of CO poisoning can be similar to the flu: dizziness, headache, fatigue, nausea, confusion, shortness of breath and feeling faint.  However, death can occur without any of these warning symptoms being experienced

If you’re experiencing symptoms that you think could be related to CO poisoning, get fresh air immediately and go to the emergency room.  A blood test called an arterial blood gas (ABG) can confirm CO poisoning if it’s done soon after an exposure.  (We can’t do ABG’s in the Student Health Center – you have to go to the ER). 

The ONLY sure way to make sure that your house is safe is to have a working CO detector so please make sure you have one in your house.  And if you already have one, be sure to test it – replacing those batteries could be the best ten dollars you ever spent!

To learn more about carbon monoxide and how to prevent poisoning, check out these links. 

United States Environmental Protection Agency

United States Consumer Product Safety Commission

Cheryl Czapla, Med IV
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University

John A. Vaughn, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University

One thought on “Winter Safety Alert! Being a couch potato really could kill you!

  1. I was exposed to a chemical in a hotel room and have had respiratory symptoms ever since. Pulmonologist has done working and feels studies are relatively normal. Lungs burn, voice hoarse. GI studies normal. Nodules in chest and on vocal cords. No answers. Where do I turn now?

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