The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention ranks Nebraska as one of the states with the highest mortality rate from carbon monoxide. Joan McVoy is a registered nurse and educator with the Nebraska Regional Poison Center and says carbon monoxide is a highly toxic gas that is produced when fuels burn incompletely. It has no color, taste or smell. She says most people think they are coming down with another illness.
McVoy says, “It is so similar to whether you have the flu or food poisoning and don’t know what the symptoms are. You feel sleepy. You feel dizzy. Your vision can be blurred. You can even have upset stomach and vomiting so people think it is more of a G-I flu. They can have shortness of breath. It is that one symptom that nurses are always keying in on is that really bad headache. They feel like their head is about to explode.”
McVoy says the carbon monoxide death rate is highest among people greater than 65 because they get tired, go to bed and typically die in their sleep. The first step in treatment is to get the person into fresh air and seek medical attention immediately.
Calls to the Poison Center have already exceeded last year’s exposures and that number is expected to go up with the recent cold snap.
The most common cause of carbon monoxide poisoning is the furnace. That is why it is so important to have all fuel burning equipment checked yearly – including the hot water heater. Make sure that fuel burning heaters are well vented to the outside and never use a gas range or oven for a heating source. Never leave a car running in an attached garage, even with the door open. Check vehicle mufflers and tailpipes regularly to make sure they are in good order. Make sure there are working carbon monoxide detectors on every level of a home.
McVoy recommends you keep the number to the Poison Center handy and call it if there is any emergency 24/7 at 1-800-222-1222.