The Silent Winter Killer That You Never Think Of?
You never think it is going to happen to you, but I woke up a few weeks ago to a blaring alarm in the middle of the night. It sounded like a fire alarm was going off in my apartment. On further investigation, it was actually my carbon monoxide alarm. Initially, I thought it was just low on battery so I replaced it before going back to bed. Soon, it was blaring again. I was shocked to realize it was actually indicating carbon monoxide in my apartment. I grabbed my two pets and vacated my apartment before calling 911 to alert the fire department.
In my medical school training I learned carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas from different appliances, such as a heater or a stove. It can come from a garage below or around you. The first symptom of carbon monoxide poisoning is headache, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. Some people can have a cherry red rash or even chest pain and shortness of breath. Don’t underestimate the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning because it can be lethal with a small exposure. Going to sleep in a carbon monoxide rich environment is extremely dangerous and can result in death or permanent harm, all before one can realize that it is too late.
The CDC reports that 400 people die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning and about 20,000 go to the emergency room. Carbon monoxide works by binding to your red blood cells and preventing oxygen from being absorbed. As a result, carbon monoxide suffocates one to death.
When the fire department arrived at my apartment they used monitors to search the entire area. They found no carbon monoxide levels and noted that my carbon monoxide alarm was actually damaged. After this experience, I made sure my apartment was up-to-date with a new carbon monoxide detector with a battery backup. I plan to test it every year. It is also important to have your car, heaters, and stoves serviced every year to make sure they working properly, without leaks. It’s important to make sure that your home, including garages and attics, have proper ventilation to prevent carbon monoxide buildup. Lastly, it is critical to never keep a car running in a closed garage.
Weeks later, I looked back at all the safety measures I have in my apartment that protect my life and my pets. I encourage you to have a carbon monoxide detector and have your appliances serviced this holiday season. Your life and the lives of others depend on it.
Dr. Strecker is a resident physician who sees patients of all ages and provides obstetrical services at Lone Star Family Health Center, a non-profit 501©3 Federally Qualified Health Center operating facilities in Conroe, Spring, Willis, Grangerland, and Huntsville, and serving as home to a fully integrated Family Medicine Residency Program to increase the number of Family Medicine physicians for Texas and our community.