Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson

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Do YOU know the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning?

1/27/2020 by Denise Dupras, MD


Each year, more than 20,000 people visit emergency rooms and over 400 die from accidental carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Everyone is at risk for CO poisoning, but especially infants, elderly and people with heart or lung disease. What do YOU know about the signs and effects of carbon monoxide poisoning? 

What is CO and where does it come from?

CO is a colorless, odorless gas found in the fumes from stoves, lanterns, gas ranges and appliances, portable generators, grills and burning wood or charcoal. In the winter or during power outages, the risk increases because people use alternative sources of heat indoors, including portable gas camp stoves, generators, ranges or charcoal grills. 

How do I recognize CO poisoning?

The symptoms of poisoning aren't specific, but include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, confusion and even chest pain. High levels of CO can lead to unconsciousness and death. CO is also harmful to your pets. 

What do I do if CO levels are high?

If you suspect CO poisoning, get fresh air! Go outside, go to another location and open the windows. If you feel ill or think you may have CO poisoning, seek medical attention. Once you're feeling better, have your local gas utility company check any gas appliances such as ranges, furnaces, dryers or water heaters to be sure they're working correctly. 

You can protect yourself and your family by: 

  • Ensuring that you have CO detectors — and that they work. Installing them in your home and regularly changing the batteries is a first step. 
  • Having your wood-burning stove or fireplace inspected regularly. 
  • Never leaving a car or any gasoline-powered engine running in an enclosed area. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers tips for preventing CO poisoning, which are available in languages from Amharic to Kurdish to Somali. 

For more information, check out the CO resources from the CDC or Minnesota Department of Health

Dr. Denise Dupras is a general internist in Primary Care in Rochester's Division of Community Internal Medicine (CIM). She completed her MD-PhD at Mayo Medical School and her residency in Internal Medicine at Mayo Clinic Rochester. Her interests include medical education and evidence-based medicine.