Carbon monoxide poisoning is a very serious concern for homeowners. Because carbon monoxide itself is colourless and odourless, it is very difficult to detect, yet its effects are far-reaching. Statistics Canada has reported that between the years 2000 and 2009, Canada saw 380 cases of death due to accidental poisoning by carbon monoxide.
Carbon monoxide is a gas that is not an irritant. Because its properties do not call attention to it, its presence can be completely hidden in a home. Though it is a very innocuous gas, it is incredibly toxic to both humans and their pets. The gas is so poisonous that it takes very little exposure to it for serious illness, and even death, to occur. Any exposure to carbon monoxide is toxic but prolonged inhalation is most certainly fatal.
How does carbon monoxide poisoning occur?
Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs when fumes from unventilated carbon fuels-based systems accumulate in small spaces with no access to clean air. When inhaled, the gas is easily absorbed into the bloodstream which then forms carboxyhemoglobin the body. This leads to a reduced capacity to properly utilize oxygen which is needed for proper brain and heart function.
In most cases, carbon monoxide poisoning is completely accidental. Because there is nothing unusual to alert a person to the presence of carbon monoxide in a closed off room, it generally has fatal effects. The most common situations for carbon monoxide poisoning include unintentional enclosure in an affected area, places without proper air ventilation in proximity to carbon-based fuels in use, gas or kerosene heaters, gas-powered water heaters, furnaces that are not properly vented, or even house fires.
What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?
Though the presence of carbon monoxide is nearly impossible to detect, the symptoms are very clear-cut.
The identifying problems a person or pet will present with include:
- Reduced activity level
- Skin and mucous membranes that are brilliant red in colour
- Laboured breathing and coughing
- Emotional heaviness
- Unusual movements including lack of balance
- Hearing impairment
Upon observation of any of these symptoms, it is critical that the person or animal be removed from the area that is contaminated by carbon monoxide for immediate transport to the hospital for treatment.
What can be done to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning?
There are many things that can be put in place in our homes to protect us and our beloved pets from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. The simplest and most important thing homeowners can do is to install reputable carbon monoxide detectors throughout their homes. These detectors are relatively expensive and are the most effective tool for preventing carbon monoxide buildups from occurring. They are a tool with the power to save the lives of families and their furry friends.
It is also critical to ensure that all gas and propane heaters as well as woodstoves, fireplaces, and other carbon monoxide producing elements receive proper and regular maintenance. Frequent inspections of ventilation areas surrounding these items is key. In inclement weather, leaves and debris can easily build up in front of vents thereby blocking access to carbon monoxide release from a home. Keep these areas clean at all times. Because air circulates, if it cannot escape home, it will simply re-enter it thus creating an extremely toxic environment.
Keep appliances intended for outdoors in the outdoors. Barbecues, smokers, and other products such as generators or external heat sources should never be used inside a home.
It is also imperative to never allow a car to idle inside a closed garage. This is an ideal environment for carbon monoxide poisoning to occur.
Treatment for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Should you or your pet be the victim of carbon monoxide poisoning, treatment is available should you catch it in time. The best hope for survival occurs when the patient receives high doses of oxygen to counteract the effects of the carbon monoxide on the compromised bloodstream. Long term oxygen therapy may be necessary as well as ventilation.
Intravenous fluids can also be helpful in restoring a proper PH level to the bloodstream.
Because carbon monoxide poisoning is extremely taxing on the body, follow-up medical care as well as reduced activity levels should take place for a period of three to four weeks.
The treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning in a pet is rather expensive, but more than that, the physical toll on our beloved dog or cat as well as the heart wrenching potential of losing them permanently is far more painful for us.
Always take care to ensure that a pet is never left in a confined space with no ventilation. This one act can save their lives.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can happen in a home, but by following the helpful tips in this article, you can keep Fido, Fifi, and the whole family safe from harm.