Frostbite isn’t the only concern with the frigid temperatures expected in eastern North Carolina this weekend.
“You can’t smell it. You can’t see it. You can’t taste it,” said ECU Health Chief for the Division of Medical Toxicology Dr. Jason Hack
Dr. Hack said carbon monoxide poisoning can sicken people when their furnaces malfunction or they use other means to heat their homes.
He said that includes, “HVAC, our heaters in our home. Portable heaters, propane portable heaters that some people might bring in, or if they lose their electricity because of an ice storm or something along those lines, they might want to bring in a generator out of the storm or close to the home.”
Dr. Hack also said people should never sit in a running car to escape the cold if the heat is out at their home.
“Some people would tend to sit in their car and turn on turn on their vehicle while it’s still in their attached garage,” he said, “Even with the door open, these can be sources of enough carbon monoxide to injure or even, unfortunately, kill people within the home itself.”
It’s not a good idea, but a dangerous one, to use the gas stove in your kitchen to warm up the house. Dr. Hack said, “It could be producing low levels of carbon monoxide that might accumulate.”
And the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can be non-specific.
“It can look like a lot of other things,” he said, “Such as weakness or dizziness. Some people complain of some shortness of breath. Headache is one of the most common presenting symptoms of carbon monoxide. Confusion. Some people actually complain of chest pain or palpitations and fainting.”
Dr. Hack said the best defense is a working carbon monoxide detector in every bedroom and living space in the house; he recommends that people to make sure the batteries are fresh and they’re working properly before the cold air arrives this weekend.
According to the National Institutes of Health, about 1,200 people die in the U.S. from accidental CO poisoning annually and more than 100,000 people visit the emergency department each year.