Temperatures in the next few days are predicted to be the coldest of the winter so far, and people using space heaters to get some extra warmth into their living and working spaces need to be aware of a potential "silent killer" inside their homes and offices — carbon monoxide (CO).
Donna Seger, M.D., professor of Clinical Medicine and medical director of the Tennessee Poison Center at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, says that the symptoms of carbon monoxide are numerous and CO poisoning is known as the "great masquerader."
"Since carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas, you may not even be aware there is a problem in your home until it is too late," she said. "Frequent symptoms are headache and nausea, symptoms which make one believe that they have the flu or a viral illness."
Prolonged exposure can lead to other symptoms such as vomiting, chest pain and confusion, serious medical problems and even death. Poisonings from carbon monoxide are especially common during cold weather spells, as families increase the use of gas, oil and coal burning appliances.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, on average 170 people die every year in the United States from carbon monoxide poisoning from non-automobile consumer products, including malfunctioning fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces, ranges, water heaters and room heaters; engine-powered equipment such as portable generators; fireplaces; and charcoal that is burned in homes and other enclosed areas.