The leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in North America is carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas which occurs as a result of incomplete combustion of organic matter. Defective gas stoves, gas log systems, gas hot water heaters, gas or kerosene space heaters, or even drift from a car in a garage or an idling car down-wind have all be known to cause carbon monoxide contamination of a home. It is possible to be rapidly killed by carbon monoxide poisoning, or if one's exposure is low and chronic, to have headaches, tiredness, dizziness, neurological symptoms, and sometimes flu-like symptoms. People with other medical problems may also develop high blood sugar, cardiac arrhythmias, vision and hearing difficulties, and gastrointestinal complaints. The fetus of a pregnant woman is particularly vulnerable even to low levels of carbon monoxide. Because, it replaces oxygen at the site on the red blood cell where the oxygen molecules would normally bind and travel, it causes hypoxia. Carbon monoxide poisoning can therefore cause hallucinations. It is felt that at least some of the houses that people believe are haunted, are actually cases of carbon monoxide hallucinations.
Although most of us believe we can detect incomplete combustion from smell, this is often not true, and may account for the number of winter and power outage deaths which occur annually. Songwriter, performer, and parodist "Weird Al" Yankovic's parents, Nick and Mary died of carbon monoxide poisoning in their California home in April, 2004, the result of the flue to their chimney having closed without their knowing. Singer Charlotte Church and her two children narrowly escaped death from carbon monoxide poisoning last year, when the new boiler she had installed in her home was apparently installed incorrectly. Her grandfather suggested she purchase a detector when she experienced headaches over a couple of weeks following the installation.
Many towns and counties not only have ordinances which require smoke detectors in residences, but carbon monoxide detectors as well. Carbon monoxide detectors used to be quite expensive, on the order of about $80. and they required replacement about every three years. New models and new technologies have allowed basic models to be marketed for about $20. US, with an expected lifespan of 6-7 years per unit. When the unit ages and is no longer effective, it will alarm. Experts recommend that families have a carbon monoxide detector on each floor of their home. Of course, a smoke detector in all the places recommended is a fine idea as well. Certainly, change the batteries twice annually, when you change the batteries to your smoke detectors, which most people do during daylight savings time, both ahead, and back. Of course, anytime twice a year when you can remember to change these batteries would be fine.
|This is the unit our family has used for years.|
|This is the variety we have now, on each floor.|
Some carbon monoxide detectors are wired into your home. Others are battery operated. To cover all contingencies, it probably makes sense to have one that does both. This way, you are protected during power outages, the time in which most families are most likely to use an alternative appliance for heating and cooking, and when their most likely exposures to carbon monoxide exposure can be.
First aid for carbon monoxide exposure will be covered in another post. The most important thing is to remove the patient suspected of receiving carbon monoxide poisoning, from the contaminated area at once. A flushed face is a LATE sign of carbon monoxide poisoning. Afflicted persons need fresh air, and may need CPR, and transport to a hospital for specialized care.