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Cold weather fuels carbon monoxide danger

By Staff | Dec 18, 2010

Three individuals have been treated for carbon monoxide poisoning since cold weather has blown into Southwest Florida.
There are a few symptoms individuals should be aware of if they suspect they have been exposed to the odorless, colorless gas of carbon monoxide: dizziness, feeling light headed or nauseous.
Although a 100 percent oxygen mask can be used for carbon monoxide poisoning, the Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber has been used to treat approximately 100 patients over the last 15 years who have been exposed to carbon monoxide.
“One hundred percent oxygen by mask is helpful, but is inferior to hyperbaric oxygen in counteracting the effects of and removing carbon monoxide,” said Dr. Rober Kupsaw, medical director of Lee Wound Center.
Lee Memorial Health System has two chambers, one multiplace chamber that can treat seven patients at a time and one monoplace chamber that can treat one patient at a time. They are one of the few 24/7 providers of emergent hyperbaric oxygen therapy in Florida.
Kupsaw said the chamber provides a patient with the ability to breathe in 100 percent oxygen, while the pressure is slowly being increased by up to three times the normal atmospheric pressure. With those conditions, a patient will have their blood super-charged with oxygen, along with the shrinking of any air bubbles that are present.
“Carbon monoxide starves tissues of oxygen by taking up the sites on blood hemoglobin where oxygen is normally transported,” he said. “Hyperbaric oxygen super-charged blood displaces carbon monoxide from blood hemoglobin allowing the carbon monoxide to be exhaled by the lungs.”
He went on to explain that the hyperbaric oxygen supercharged blood also can have so much oxygen dissolved in the blood plasma that blood hemoglobin can be completely filled by carbon monoxide with plenty of oxygen for the body’s tissue.
A patient will spend approximately three hours inside of the hyperbaric oxygen chamber when they are treated for carbon monoxide poisoning.
There are a few simple steps individuals can follow to keep themselves protected from carbon monoxide poisoning while trying to keep themselves warm during the colder months.
n Avoid using a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove or other gasoline or charcoal-burning devices within the home, basement, garage or near a window.
n Avoid running a car or truck inside a garage that is attached to the home, even if the door is left open.
n Avoid burning anything in a stove or fireplace that is not vented.
n Avoid heating a home with a gas oven.
Diane Holm, Lee County Health Department spokesperson, said people need to understand that when they are working hard to stay warm they should avoid making those simple mistakes because “ultimately carbon monoxide can kill an individual very quickly.”
“They want to be sure that what they are doing is not creating a problem,” she said.
Holm explained that since carbon monoxide rises, a battery operated detector will set off the alarm if the batteries are properly functioning in their carbon monoxide protector. The battery for the device should be replaced when the time on clocks are changed every fall and spring.
“If that alarm goes off they need to exit the home immediately and call 911,” she said.
Another important thing to keep in mind Holm said during the holiday boat parade is to make sure boaters are safe when using heating devices.
She explained that no amount of ventilation is going to take away enough carbon monoxide if it is going inside a building, vessel, motor home or mobile home.
“Just having a fan blowing the air around isn’t going to cut it,” Holm said. “They are still going to be sick.”
Individuals should have their heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil or coal burning appliances serviced every year by a qualified technician, which includes systems for mobile or motor homes and boats.
“Hopefully people will stay safe,” Holm said.