Our homes are where we can relax and unwind, away from the stress and danger of everyday life, but what if there is an invisible danger lurking within your home? According to the CDC, approximately 50,000 people visit the emergency room for accidental carbon monoxide poisoning each year. This invisible gas with no noticeable smell or taste is almost impossible to detect with the human senses, which means you must implement certain safety measures in your home and life to make sure you and your family stay safe from potential poisoning.
Carbon monoxide is a gas that is produced by the incomplete combustion of fuels and it has a higher affinity for hemoglobin than normal oxygen. Meaning, if you’re exposed to carbon monoxide, it will replace the oxygen molecules in your blood, which means your body won’t be able to get the oxygen it needs to function. Depriving a body of oxygen this way will eventually lead to damage to vital organs and ultimately death. Carbon monoxide poisoning is particularly deadly because it is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas common with many fuels we find in the house for water heaters, outside grills, boats, and more.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning could include:
• Shortness of breath
• Poor coordination
• Loss of consciousness
“If you start to recognize the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, immediately get out,” said Dr. Libby Palumbo of TPMG Hidenwood Family Medicine in Newport News. The first thing anyone who thinks they’ve been exposed to carbon monoxide should do is move to a new location with fresh air. If you are in an apartment or house, move outside until you know more. If you are grilling or on a boat, move far enough away to prevent any kind of exposure. After you’ve evacuated, call the fire department so they can make sure you and your property are okay. If you’re worried about potential sources for carbon monoxide leaks, call your utility company. They will have tools that can detect the minutest traces of carbon monoxide molecules in the air and make a fix.
Treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning varies depending on the severity of the case. For some, treatment only requires oxygen, whether that means breathing fresh, outside air or an oxygen mask. For those who maybe have lost consciousness or are showing more serious symptoms like irritability, your doctor might recommend a hyperbaric oxygen chamber that can push two to three times the amount of oxygen in normal air to quickly replace those carbon monoxide molecules in the body.
Long-term effects from carbon monoxide poisoning depend on the extent of your exposure. More serious effects can include damage to vital organs like the kidneys, heart, and brain. For women who are pregnant, carbon monoxide poisoning could lead to miscarriages. Those with chronic respiratory or cardiac conditions like COPD, asthma, stroke, or emphysema could experience worse side effects from carbon monoxide exposure. Those with anemia can experience worse symptoms because their blood oxygen levels are already lowered. More mild complications can include loss of memory, irritability, headache, and fatigue that can linger for a long time.
Even though this tasteless, odorless, colorless gas is practically impossible to detect using human senses, there are ways you can safeguard yourself and your family. Make sure your home is equipped with carbon monoxide alarms. Some smoke detectors contain dual carbon monoxide alarms, but not all do. Check your alarms to make sure that you have a carbon monoxide alarm. If your smoke detectors don’t have dual alarms, you can buy carbon monoxide detectors and place them at outlets near bedrooms and any room where there is a burning device like a gas stove, fireplace, or water heater.
Due to COVID-19, many Americans use pulse oximeters to measure their oxygen levels. It’s important to note that this tool does not do well in differentiating between carboxyhemoglobin (Carbon monoxide in the blood) and oxyhemoglobin (oxygen in the blood). Meaning, people can’t use pulse oximeters to measure carbon monoxide exposure.
“If you can take control of your health, then you should because you are your best health advocate,” said Dr. Palumbo. “We should work together to encourage our family members to check their carbon monoxide alarms.”
Some aren’t able to protect themselves against carbon monoxide poisoning on their own. Protect your children, family, and friends by educating yourself about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning. By bringing awareness to this issue, we can have fewer accidents and further tragedies. To learn more about carbon monoxide poisoning and other ways to keep your home safe for your family, contact a TPMG provider today.
About Dr. Libby Palumbo, DO
As an osteopathic physician, Dr. Palumbo has been trained in the full spectrum of family medicine and has a strong background in Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM). OMM is a hands-on approach used to diagnosis, treat, and prevent illness or injury. Dr. Palumbo serves a broad patient population ranging from pediatrics to geriatrics. She treats both acute and chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, congestive heart failure, COPD/Asthma, sinus infections, ear infections, and urinary tract infections.
Dr. Palumbo looks forward to building her practice at TPMG Hidenwood Family Medicine and welcomes new patients to schedule an appointment.