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Avoiding Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

By Kelli Grant
Published: January 4, 2010, 6:12 PM

Two South Dakota families are mourning the deaths of two teenagers after police say accidental carbon monoxide poisoning took their lives on New Year's Eve. The two boys were found dead in a garage in Yankton.

It's a grim reminder of just how dangerous the gas can be. The silent killer claims lives every year.

The temperatures outside can be deadly, but being inside can be just as dangerous. Carbon monoxide poisoning comes with little warning, but there are ways to avoid becoming its victim.

It may seem like your furnace never shuts down these days. Those cold temperatures are also responsible for leaving many of us shut in. It's a lethal combination that you normally wouldn't expect.

"A lot of it is, we're in the homes longer. The doors and windows aren't open, so it allows carbon monoxide to build up rapidly in the home," Jim Sideras with Sioux Falls Fire Rescue said.

And it happens almost too fast.

"The sequence happens very rapidly so that within a few minutes of getting nausea, you could be unconscious," Sanford Trauma 5 Dr. Chris Carlisle said.

You could also get little warning because the gas is odorless, tasteless and you can't see it in the air.
"You're just not getting any oxygen at all," Carlisle said.

Whether the cause is a malfunctioning furnace, fireplace or even a water heater, symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can be mistaken for just feeling under the weather, rather than being under the gas' influence.

"If you're feeling fine and then all of a sudden you start feeling badly and over the course of 15 minutes you've got this headache like you've never had before and you're sick to your stomach and throwing up, well, you should at least consider it," Carlisle said.

"If a fireplace is going, the furnace is going and all of a sudden everyone is getting sick. That should be the red flag that there's something going on in the home. We don't know what it is," Sideras said.

A carbon monoxide detector in a home can be a life saver. But if you have symptoms or your alarm sounds, don't rush to call someone to fix your furnace.

"The first person to call is 911. We can come out, check those levels. We want to get you out of the home," Sideras said.

And into a safe place where what you breathe won't take your life.

If you're among the many who like to warm up the car before heading out, make sure your garage door is open. If not, carbon monoxide can get trapped in your garage and seep into your home.

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