Even if you're experienced at weathering the storm and the aftermath, it never hurts to remind people that the most dangerous parts of hurricanes often come after the storm has passed and you're living without power.
Like most of us, we get creative when it comes to cooking without power – looking to the grill, powering appliances with generators or even using portable gas stoves. While these can be good for a hot meal, inevitably some people may be tempted to bring these items inside, which can cause major health concerns.
Using this equipment inside can result in a significant buildup of carbon monoxide, which can cause serious and even fatal health problems. And, because carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas, it is referred to as the "silent killer."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year more than 400 people die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning. More than 20,000 people visit the emergency room, with 4,000 hospitalized due to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Carbon monoxide can be deadly but the initial symptoms may be mild, beginning as a headache and sleepiness. In severe cases, a person can become confused or faint due to the effects. In rare cases, death is possible.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include:
- Chest pain
So, what can you do to protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning?
"Only use barbecue grills outside, away from all doors, windows, vents and other building openings. Some grills can produce carbon monoxide. And never use grills inside the home or the garage, even if the doors are open," says Sanjai Pattani, MD, emergency medicine specialist at Florida Hospital. "It's a common mistake people make without understanding the full repercussions,"
Dr. Pattani also cautions using portable generators outdoors in well-ventilated areas away from all doors, windows, vents and other building openings to prevent exhaust fumes from entering the home.
While they offer great benefits when outages affect your home or business, they can be hazardous so it's essential that you take precautions for your safety.
"Also, make sure you have battery powered carbon monoxide detectors in your home or the in the area where the generator is running," cautions Dr. Pattani.
"Never plug your generator directly into your home outlet and always keep children away," he says.
The CDC echoes this sentiment and cautions to never use a generator, camp stove or oven as a heater indoors.
How Does Carbon Monoxide Affect Your Body?
Carbon monoxide prevents oxygen in your blood from being carried throughout your body, specifically to vital organs such as your heart and brain. High doses of carbon monoxide can cause death from asphyxiation or lack of oxygen to the brain, says Dr. Pattani.
If you or someone you know has been exposed to carbon monoxide, get fresh air immediately and call 911.
Once you're at the hospital, treatment may include:
- Pure Oxygen – Receiving pure oxygen through a mask over your nose and mouth. This helps the oxygen reach your affected organs.
- Hyperbaric Chamber – In extreme cases, doctors can rush a patient to a hyperbaric chamber. This involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized chamber, which can help raise blood oxygen levels more quickly since the oxygen is pressurized.
"If you use any of these devices, be aware of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning," says Dr. Pattani. "And if you suspect someone has been exposed, don't take chances because it could be life-threatening if you don't seek immediate medical attention."