Utah is a key destination for winter outdoor enthusiasts. There are prime opportunities to ski, snowboard, sled, snowshoe and enjoy the “Greatest Snow on Earth.”
Injuries associated with these types of activities are often orthopedic: a broken leg, a fractured ankle or wrist, or even a concussion. But one type of injury many winter enthusiasts don’t think about is carbon monoxide poisoning.
Often referred to as the silent killer, carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless, tasteless gas that can easily injure or kill someone. And in the wintertime, the incidence of CO poisoning increases, and it strikes in a variety of ways.
“Heating systems are the biggest culprit when it comes to CO poisonings,” said Lindell Weaver, MD, medical director of the Hyperbaric Medicine Program at Intermountain Medical Center and LDS Hospital. “When something isn’t operating right on a furnace, lethal doses of carbon monoxide can be released into the house, putting all occupants at risk.”
Before heading out on a winter adventure, families may start their car to warm it up before piling everyone in. The exhaust from the car, if it’s parked too close to an open window or door — or even worse if it’s parked in the garage — may enter the house and immediately begin affecting those inside.
Propane heaters are great for warmth, but if they’re used in a room that isn’t properly ventilated, the gas can build up and overrun the oxygen in the room, which makes the air dangerous to breathe.
When the power goes out, which sometimes happens in a winter storm, people pull out gas-powered generators to help them weather the storm — but the exhaust from the generator , even if it’s used outside pr near an open window or door, can collect in the house.
Carbon monoxide alarms are vital to preventing injury or death. They can alert a family of rising toxic levels and keep them out of harm’s way.“Every house should have a CO alarm on every floor where people are living,” said Dr. Weaver. “If you’re traveling, I’d also recommend carrying a portable CO alarm with you, just in case the place you’re staying doesn’t have one. I’ve heard of many families going on vacation and becoming deathly sick because a bad furnace nearby is spewing out toxic fumes that go undetected.”