Falling Temperatures Brings an Increase in Carbon Monoxide Exposures

Published: Friday, November 18, 2022

As winter weather moves into Oklahoma and people begin to use their furnaces and fireplaces, calls to the Oklahoma Center for Poison and Drug Information about carbon monoxide poisoning will increase.

“Heaters, fireplaces and water heaters experience wear and tear, just like every other part of a house,” advises Poison Center Assistant Managing Director Kristie Edelen. “Now is the time to have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician to make sure you and your family stay safe this winter.

“People will occasionally attempt to heat their home with grills or stoves,” Edelen added. “This is extremely dangerous; there is no way these attempts at heating can be made safe.”

Edelen advised not to use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove or other gasoline or charcoal-burning device inside the home, basement, garage or near a window. Carbon monoxide is found in fumes produced any time fuel is burned in gas furnaces, ranges or water heaters, cars or trucks, small engines, stoves, lanterns and grills. Proper ventilation is essential when any of these are used, and damage to or blockage of chimneys, vents or exhaust can cause carbon monoxide to build up indoors.

The most common early signs of poisoning due to carbon monoxide are headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain and confusion.

Severe symptoms include:

  • Fainting
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Coma
  • Seizures
  • Stopping breathing
  • Heart attack

Any person exposed to carbon monoxide who has anything more than minor symptoms should seek medical attention right away by calling 911 or getting to the closest emergency department. If you have a carbon monoxide detector and it signals or if you are suspecting carbon monoxide poisoning, it is important to get fresh air immediately, and then call the Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222.

Edelen said it is important to install a battery-operated or battery back-up carbon monoxide detector in the home. For those with a carbon monoxide detector, this is a good time to check or replace the battery. A detector should not be placed within 15 inches of heating or cooking appliances or in a humid area, such as the bathroom.

If the carbon monoxide detector begins to sound:

  • Everyone should leave the house.
  • Call 911 or go to an emergency department right away if anyone has had moderate or severe symptoms, has a history of heart problems, is pregnant, or if an infant has been exposed.
  • Call the local gas company, fire department or appliance repair service to come and find the source of the carbon monoxide.
  • DO NOT GO BACK INSIDE until the source of carbon monoxide has been identified and shut off or repaired.

Pharmacists and registered nurses at the Poison Center are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at (800) 222-1222. Please do not email the Poison Center or a member of the Poison Center staff, as poisoning emergencies are not handled through email. The Oklahoma Center for Poison and Drug Information is a program of the University of Oklahoma College of Pharmacy at the OU Health Sciences Center. For more information, log on to www.oklahomapoison.org