Beware carbon monoxide poisoning risks


With cold winter days and nights, people are keeping their doors and windows closed to save heat. That also means dangerous levels of carbon monoxide, an odorless gas, can build up inside homes.

The New Mexico Poison and Drug Information Center at the University of New Mexico College of Pharmacy fielded calls on 246 carbon monoxide exposure cases during 2016, and December was the heaviest month, with 72 exposures, according to the center.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas emitted by all fuel-burning appliances and equipment, such as water heaters, ovens, wood stoves and gas furnaces. Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause permanent damage to the brain and nervous system tissue, and it can be deadly. Symptoms can mimic the flu with headache, dizziness, aches and confusion. Unlike the flu, people suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning don't have fever or diarrhea.

Prevention and early detection of exposure to the poisonous gas is crucial. Here are some actions you can take to prevent or minimize the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning:

• Buy inexpensive carbon monoxide detectors at a hardware store and install one on each floor and outside of every sleeping area of your home. If the alarm sounds on a detector, turn off all fuel-burning devices, open doors and windows and vacate the home immediately until the source can be identified and repaired by a qualified technician.

• Have your furnace, fireplace, chimney, wood stoves, flues and other fuel-burning appliances inspected, adjusted and repaired, if needed, before every heating season.

• Do not use charcoal grills indoors (including inside a tent, car or garage) for either cooking or heating - even if the doors are open.

• Do not use your oven to heat your home or put foil underneath a gas oven, as this interferes with combustion. Do not use your clothes dryer to heat your home.

• Do not attempt to warm up your car by letting the engine run in an enclosed or attached garage - even if the door are open.

Do not run a generator in your home, garage or crawlspace. Ventilating the area by opening windows and doors or using fans will not prevent the accumulation of carbon monoxide gas.

Contact the New Mexico Gas Company immediately at (888) NM-GAS-CO, or (888) 664-2726, to report a gas-related emergency. Refer to the New Mexico Gas Company website to learn more about carbon monoxide safety and what to look for when shopping for a carbon monoxide detector.

If you think you or someone you know has been exposed to carbon monoxide gas, call the New Mexico Poison and Drug Information Center immediately at (800) 222-1222. The center has specially trained pharmacists who are prepared to respond with information and treatment advice about carbon monoxide poisoning.