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Officials warn of increased carbon monoxide risk in winter

By Jamie Lampros - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Nov 14, 2021

Photo supplied, Business Wire via AP

The Knox Safety Carbon Monoxide (CO) Alarm is the only one that tells you what to do in a CO emergency with both visual and voice alerts in English or Spanish.

Every year in America, more than 5,000 people visit the emergency department for carbon monoxide poisoning. More than 400 people die from the “silent killer.”

In 2020, 195 people were treated in the emergency department in Utah and nine people lost their lives.

During the winter, the risk for CO poisoning increases. Local healthcare workers, fire fighters and health departments have joined together to remind people to take every possible step to stay safe – and alive.

“Unfortunately, we do deal with carbon monoxide issues regularly,” said Ogden City Fire Marshal Kevin Rown. “We do see some people who have gotten pretty sick, but we also go out on calls where people have had their detector go off.”

Rown said the danger with CO is the fact that it can’t be seen, tasted or smelled. “The big danger is if you don’t have a carbon monoxide detector, you might think you’re coming down with something and lay down to go to sleep and never wake up,” he said.

Ogden Regional Medical Center emergency physician Dr. Joan Balcombe said the most common symptoms of CO poisoning are weakness, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, dull headache and confusion, most often described as the flu.

Balcombe said there can also be loss of vision, taste, smell and hearing issues. Rarely, nerve and sensation damage that mimics Parkinson’s disease and its symptoms can occur.

“It can affect the brain by causing damage from lack of oxygen,” she said. “It can damage the heart and lead to long-term defects and complications and can also cause birth defects or fetal demise.”

Carbon monoxide is an invisible gas produced when gasoline, natural gas, propane, kerosene and other fuels are not completely burned during use. The Utah Department of Health lists automobile exhaust as a common source of CO, but small gasoline engines, camp lanterns and stoves, charcoal grills, gas ranges and furnaces also produce it. When these are not working properly or are used incorrectly, dangerous amounts of CO can build up in enclosed spaces and poison the people and pets who inhale it.

“It can make you sick in minutes or take up to an hour depending on the level of carbon monoxide you’re exposed to,” Rown said.

Balcombe said hyperbaric oxygen therapy is the best treatment for CO poisoning and gives the quickest and best results for recovery. During treatment, the patient lays inside a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber where air pressure is increased up to three times higher than normal air pressure. During this form of treatment, the lungs breathe in pure oxygen. “Prevention is key,” she said.

“Be aware of your surroundings and always check your appliances that might be a primary source of carbon monoxide to ensure the working capacities and that they are properly maintained,” Balcombe said. “Never use a propane heater or cooking device without proper ventilation.”

Rown added that it is also important to have a carbon monoxide detector on every floor of your home. “We sell the detectors to Ogden City residents for $10,” he said. “You just need to come down and show us a utility bill and you can get one at the discounted rate.”

The municipal building is located at 2549 Washington Blvd.

If CO poisoning is suspected, quickly get to fresh air and call the Utah Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222, or 911.

Here are some other tips from the Utah Department of Health for preventing CO poisoning:

  • Heating systems, water heaters and any other gas-, oil-, wood-, or coal-burning appliances should be serviced by a licensed technician every year.
  • Install an Underwriters Laboratory-approved CO monitor on each level of your home near sleeping areas. Check or replace the battery twice a year. (As a reminder, do this when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall.) Boats and recreational vehicles with propane stoves or heaters should also be equipped with CO detectors.
  • Inspect your home after heavy snowfall and make sure snow is removed from around exhaust stacks, vents, and fresh-air intakes.
  • If your CO monitor alarms continuously, leave your home and call 911 or your local natural gas company.
  • Get medical help right away if you suspect CO poisoning and feel dizzy, light-headed, or nauseated. Immediately call poison control at 1-800-222-1222.
  • Do not use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gasoline- or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement, or garage. Generators should be located outside at least 20 feet from any window, door, or vent.
  • Do not run a car, truck, or other motorized vehicle inside a garage attached to your house, even if you leave the door open.
  • Do not burn anything in an unvented stove or fireplace.
  • Do not heat your house with a natural gas oven.


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