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Explaining the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning during winter weather

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Published: Jan. 21, 2022 at 7:04 PM EST
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ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - As winter weather continues, a doctor at Phoebe said it increases the risk of exposure to carbon monoxide. That’s because of the heaters, generators and other items used to warm up homes.

In the United States, 500 people die each year because of carbon monoxide poisoning, according to data from FEMA. More than 10,000 people need medical attention each year. Although not all exposures are severe, some can be.

Dr. Thomas Bozzuto, medical director of the wound care and Hyperbaric Center, uses a hyperbaric chamber to treat patients. He said many times, exposure happens at home, and in severe cases, they would sit in the chamber for about an hour in a half to restore oxygen levels.

“Never use any kind of equipment or thing that generates heat inside the house without it being properly vented. No charcoal briquettes, no space heaters, check your ovens, check your heater, your flute system,” said Bozzuto.

Since carbon monoxide is tasteless, colorless and odorless he said many times, people are exposed and they don’t notice.

“The two most common things that carbon monoxide is misdiagnosed as either a migraine headache or the flu,” said Bozzuto.

Bozzuto said one way you can differentiate is by is seeing how others living with you at home feel.

“If you have a family, not everybody gets sick with flu at the same time. If your pet starts acting weird, also know that’s not the flu. They could be susceptible to this as well,” said Bozzuto.

If a person experiences these symptoms and suspects they could’ve been exposed, they should go to the emergency room. They will do a blood test that measures how much carbon monoxide is in your bloodstream.

If it’s mild, they put you on oxygen for a few hours. If severe, that’s when they use hyperbolic treatment.

“The chamber’s pressurized with air and the patient’s breath oxygen through a clear plastic hood. If somebody’s been unconscious and they can’t walk, we can put a stretcher in there,” said Bozzuto.

He said it’s important to check the ventilation in your home, install carbon monoxide alarms in bedrooms and be cautious about where you place generators.

“Make sure the generator is at least 20 feet from any ventilation source, window garage, any venting area where you’re heating or cooling would be pulling the air into work,” said Bozzuto.

Bozzuto said being aware of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning is important. Adding severe exposure or low exposure over a long time can cause lasting effects, the main one being memory loss.

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