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Vanquishing the silent killer: Carbon monoxide

Dec. 31, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

When Burt Lancaster boarded his submarine in the 1958 movie "Run Silent, Run Deep," he used sonar to hunt for the enemy. But when it comes to protecting your family from carbon monoxide -- a stealthy hazard that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls "the silent killer" -- we recommend tracking this menace with carbon monoxide detectors on every level in your home and in every bedroom.

Carbon monoxide, CO, is a tasteless, odorless gas. Poorly vented kerosene and gas space heaters, leaking chimneys, furnaces, gas stoves, water heaters, wood stoves and fireplaces are common sources. And CO can backdraft into the house from automobile exhaust in an attached garage. When you open the door from the house to the garage, the fumes get sucked into the house! Every year in the U.S., CO poisoning sends 20,000 people to the emergency room; more than 450 people die.

If there's a slow accumulation, CO can trigger depression, confusion, memory loss and even heart damage. Or it can overwhelm you before you know it, causing sudden headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or worse.

Your action plan: Have your heating systems (furnaces, flues and chimneys) inspected, cleaned and tuned-up annually. Repair leaks promptly, and keep records of maintenance and repairs. Never use a generator inside homes, garages, crawlspaces, sheds or similar enclosed areas -- and make sure there's plenty of fresh air. Deadly levels of carbon monoxide can build up quickly and linger for hours, even after a generator is turned off. So, install and check those carbon monoxide detectors, and stay safe this winter.

Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Medical Officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. For more information go to www.RealAge.com.

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