What you can’t see or smell can kill you

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning claims hundreds of lives each year, more than 15,000 visit ERs

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Emergency physicians see the tragic consequences of carbon monoxide poisoning each year, especially during the winter months when people begin using heating devices and stoves to keep warm or use portable generators without proper ventilation.

“This colorless, odorless gas is deadly if you don’t take precautionary steps or notice the symptoms,” said Dr. Andrew Sama, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians. “Thinking about it now and acting to prevent the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning may save your life and the lives of those around you.”

Carbon monoxide poisoning is responsible for approximately 15,000 emergency department visits and nearly 500 deaths annually in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Emergency physicians urge everyone to spot the potential signs of carbon monoxide poisoning.

A young boy in Boston tragically was killed by carbon monoxide following that city’s blizzard a few weeks ago. He was in a car trying to stay warm but the exhaust pipe of the vehicle was covered in snow forcing carbon monoxide in the car.




Chest Pain


Carbon monoxide poisoning often is difficult to diagnose because the symptoms mimic other illnesses.

“If you get bad headaches or suffer from any of these symptoms, you may easily confuse them with the flu,” said Dr. Sama. “People should be concerned about the possible presence of carbon monoxide if more than one person living or working together develops these symptoms simultaneously over a short period of time.”

Also, people who are sleeping or intoxicated can die from carbon monoxide poisoning without ever experiencing symptoms, or knowing they are experiencing them.

Of course, we always urge people to call 911 if they feel they may be experiencing an emergency.

Ways to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning:

Have gas appliances installed or maintained by a qualified professional.

Install a carbon monoxide detector on each level of a home, especially near sleeping areas.

Never leave a motor running of a vehicle parked in an enclosed garage.

Do not use portable flameless chemical heaters indoors. Even if they don’t have flames, they burn case and release carbon monoxide in homes, cabins or campers.

Never use a charcoal grill indoors.

Make sure all gas appliances (grills, camp stoves, power tools, generators, etc.) are properly vented so that carbon monoxide does not build in homes, cabins or campers.

Turn on the exhaust fan over your gas stove when using it.

Never burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn’t vented.

Have chimneys checked and cleaned every year.

Make sure fireplace flues are open during use.

For more information on Carbon Monoxide Poisoning or other emergency related issues visit EmergencyCareForYou.org.

ACEP is the national medical specialty society representing emergency medicine. ACEP is committed to advancing emergency care through continuing education, research and public education. Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, ACEP has 53 chapters representing each state, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. A Government Services Chapter represents emergency physicians employed by military branches and other government agencies.

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