Doctors at Intermountain Healthcare are warning Utahns about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning, particularly during cold weather. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)
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SALT LAKE CITY — Physicians at Intermountain Healthcare urged Utah residents on Wednesday to be aware of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning as the state is dealing with winter temperatures and people are turning on more heating devices.
“When the furnaces turn on, the carbon monoxide detectors should also get a checkup,” said Dr. Marc Robins, hyperbaric medicine specialist at Intermountain’s Utah Valley Hospital.
Robins said people should make sure that they have a working carbon monoxide detector. He said carbon monoxide detectors are ineffective after five to seven years, a shorter timeframe than the fire alarms that they are often paired with.
Any heating equipment that burns fuel can produce carbon monoxide, including fireplaces, gas stoves, water heaters, furnaces and space heaters, an Intermountain Healthcare press release states. Using fuel-operated machines in poorly ventilated spaces can produce carbon monoxide and cause poisoning.
Intermountain officials suggest that people think about how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning and take prevention steps, including annual check-ups for furnaces and water heaters, carbon monoxide monitors and alarms, not running cars in enclosed spaces, and checking chimney flumes to make sure they aren’t blocked.
Carbon monoxide can spread through walls and fill entire rooms, homes or buildings Robins said. This means that even if your furnace is working fine, a neighbor’s leak could impact you which makes monitors even more necessary.
The gas is colorless, odorless and tasteless so it is almost undetectable, leading to it being the No.1 cause of death by poisoning in the country.
“Unfortunately, some of the symptoms that come with carbon monoxide poisoning mimic COVID and flu symptoms – headache, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, aches, and pains. … If you suspect you or someone in your family have been exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide, you should leave immediately and seek help,” Robins said.
One indicator of carbon monoxide poisoning can be if everyone in a home seems to be getting sick at exactly the same time, he said.
Robins warned that individuals who have been poisoned by carbon monoxide are at risk for permanent brain or cardiac injuries, and suggested that anyone who has had exposure to carbon monoxide should go to the emergency room to be evaluated, no matter how light the symptoms.
“The most effective treatment comes within the first 24 hours,” Robins said.
Patients are typically treated with high-flow oxygen, sometimes using a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, which reduces the risk of permanent brain damage but does not always prevent it.
Intermountain Healthcare officials say that each year over 20,000 people nationwide visit the emergency room because of carbon monoxide incidents, and the release cites Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that show over 400 people in the country will die yearly from “unintentional CO poisoning not linked to fires.”
Robins said that between 1996 and 2013, Utah hospitals treated an average of 422 people each year and saw a yearly average of 30 deaths due to carbon monoxide poisoning.