As days grow shorter and nights colder, many of us turn on our heaters, fireplaces and furnaces after months of non-use. It’s important to check heating appliances each year to ensure it remains in good working order. A malfunctioning furnace can emit carbon monoxide (CO), a colorless, odorless — and potentially deadly — gas.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning not linked to fires, more than 20,000 visit the emergency room and more than 4,000 are hospitalized.
“Children and the elderly are especially at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning, as well as those with chronic heart disease, anemia or breathing problems,” says Dr. Keith Yablonicky, an emergency physician at Sharp Memorial Hospital.
What to do if you suspect a leak
If you suspect a carbon monoxide leak, Dr. Yablonicky recommends immediately taking the following actions:
- If safe to do so, immediately turn off the suspected gas appliance.
- Evacuate the premises and call 911.
- Seek medical attention if anyone in the home experiences possible carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms.
- Call your local utility provider or a licensed, qualified professional to have the appliance inspected.
- Don’t use the suspected heating device or appliance until it has been inspected, serviced and determined to be safe by your utility company or a licensed, qualified professional.
The early signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include:
- Unexplained nausea
- Unexplained drowsiness
- Mental confusion
- Flu-like symptoms
Under state law, all California homeowners and rental property owners are required to install carbon monoxide detectors in their home or rental property. Change the batteries twice a year — when you change those in your smoke detector — to ensure the detector works properly. The time change in fall and spring is a great reminder of this important safety precaution. It’s also important to ensure all heating devices are working correctly before running them.