Carbon Monoxide Poisonings Still Steady Despite Warnings

“During each of the last two years, we’ve had nearly 30 patients come for hyperbaric oxygen therapy after CO exposure in the winter months,” said Marc Robins, DO, Utah Valley Hyperbaric Medicine Clinic. “We’d love to see that number decrease, but this winter we’ve already treated several significant CO exposure patients and could easily match our numbers from the recent past.”

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy lowers the amount of carbon monoxide in the blood, but more importantly, it reduces carbon monoxide bound to other tissues like the brain and heart. This can reduce the risk of long-term brain damage and other possible complications. But, the best medicine is always prevention.

“Most of the exposures to CO come from the exhaust of heaters, cars and other fuel operated machinery, like power tools, being used in poorly ventilated spaces,” said Dr. Robins. In the last several weeks, the clinic has seen exposures ranging from workers driving a forklift indoors to a family using a propane heater in the garage.

Dr. Robins warned the symptoms of CO poisoning can be similar to the flu and people may not consider carbon monoxide as the cause. “Be suspicious if everyone in the home comes down with flu-like symptoms at the same time, especially without fevers,” he said.

Below are some of the common signs and symptoms of CO poisoning. If you suspect carbon monoxide exposure, move outside to fresh air and seek immediate medical attention.

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Weakness
  • Stomach pain
  • Blurry vision
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion

Dr. Robins encouraged everyone to follow these safety tips to avoid CO exposure:

  • Remove the car from the garage to warm it up. Even with the garage door open, the exhaust can enter the house. 
  • Make sure vents for the furnace, dryer, furnace, stove, and fireplace are clear of snow build-up during winter storms.
  • Use generators outdoors, at least 25 feet away from windows, doors and vents.
  • Burn charcoal outdoors, never indoors.
  • Inspect the flue or vent system for your furnace, water heater, fireplaces and wood stoves each year.
  • Ensure proper cross-ventilation if using gas-powered tools indoors and always have a visually alarmed CO detector within sight.
  • Place carbon monoxide monitors on every level of your home. Replace them every five years.

Despite warnings and guidelines on how to prevent carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, healthcare providers at Utah Valley Hospital are still seeing a steady number of patients affected by this odorless, colorless gas.