As we keep our homes warm and safe this winter, we open ourselves up to the dangers of carbon monoxide. It’s important to know what the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning are, how carbon monoxide can build up within a home, and what you can do to keep you family safe from the dangers of carbon monoxide.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide

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At the earliest stages, the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can be vague and extremely subtle. Described as flulike, low-level carbon monoxide poisoning results in mild headaches, fatigue and dizziness. As carbon monoxide builds up within the blood, they become more severe. Eventually, carbon monoxide poisoning will cause severe headaches, weakness, confusion, disorientation, blurred vision and loss of consciousness. It’s important that anyone exhibiting these symptoms seeks medical attention, and the home should be evacuated as a precaution.

More than 200 people die each year in the United States due to carbon monoxide poisoning. An additional 20,000 people visit the emergency rooms with signs of carbon monoxide poisoning, and 4,000 of those people are hospitalized. Young children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to the effects of carbon monoxide.

How carbon monoxide poisoning occurs

Carbon monoxide is produced anytime combustion occurs. Clothes dryers, furnaces, fireplaces, stoves and space heaters all put off some levels of carbon monoxide. In most cases, the appliances are properly vented and that carbon monoxide safely leaves the home. When an appliance malfunctions or if the appliance is not properly vented, however, carbon monoxide can be released back into the home. Over time, that carbon monoxide can build up to dangerous levels, especially in newer “air-tight” homes or homes that have been winterized for energy efficiency.

How to stay safe from carbon monoxide poisoning

There are many things you can do to keep you family save from carbon monoxide poisoning. First and foremost, the vents and chimneys to all of your combustion appliances, including furnaces, dryers, fireplaces and stoves, and the appliances themselves should be cleaned and inspected each year. The cleaning will ensure that the ducts are open for proper ventilation, while the inspection will help ensure that the appliance is operating properly. During large accumulations of snow or ice make sure to remove snow and ice blocking vents for your furnace, dryer, fireplaces wood stove and gas fireplaces prior to use. Never run appliances like space heaters or generators in a room that isn’t properly ventilated or in rooms in which people are sleeping.

Most importantly, your home should be equipped with carbon monoxide detectors. The National Fire Protection Association recommends that a carbon monoxide detector be placed on each floor of a home and outside of sleeping areas. Those detectors should be inspected regularly to make sure that the batteries are fresh and that they are operating properly. Make sure that each member of your household knows what to do if those detectors go off: Evacuate the home and call 911.

Carbon monoxide poses a real danger, especially during cold weather months. Make sure your family is aware of the symptoms, and make sure you have your appliance properly serviced to prevent any problems.