I Can’t Breathe!
I have an elderly family member who is slowly suffocating. That was actually difficult to put down in words but it’s even harder to see her suffer. She has a condition where her lungs are slowly filling with carbon dioxide and she’s not able to exhale hard enough to expel the carbon dioxide from her lungs. As a result, every day she has a little less lung capacity for oxygen. She wears oxygen nasal prongs 24/7 and still runs out of breath just walking from one room to another.
Breathing to get the oxygen we need is one of the strongest natural urges we all have. The panicked feeling that occurs when you get the breath knocked out of you and you can’t breathe for what seems like forever (even though it’s only a few seconds) is a very frightening experience.
So not being able to breathe is a very traumatic way to die and one is definitely aware of what’s happening. There is though, another way one can die by not getting the oxygen necessary to maintain life, and this way is not painful and can happen without you even knowing it.
I wrote a blog about my personal experience with carbon monoxide poisoning. Here’s the link:
I came across another excellent article about carbon monoxide poisoning I wanted to share with you especially in light of the upcoming winter season where emergency indoor heating and cooking can create a real problem.
The article is titled, “This is One of the Unspoken Dangers That (Silently and Quickly) Kills During Emergencies”.
It claims the lives of hundreds of unsuspecting victims every year and makes thousands more seriously ill.
This invisible killer is odorless, colorless, and tasteless – and strikes without warning.
Everyone – yes, including you and your family, and even your pets – is at risk of becoming a victim of this insidious poison.
Fortunately, simple precautions can keep you and your family safe.
Carbon Monoxide – a Silent Killer
Every year, at least 430 people die in the U. S. from accidental carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Approximately 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency department each year due to accidental CO poisoning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Carbon monoxide is produced every time a fossil fuel is burned. This includes fuel in cars or trucks, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, or furnaces.
Everyone is exposed to small amounts of carbon monoxide throughout the day. However, inhaling too much of it can cause CO poisoning. The actual poisoning occurs when you breathe in this air – especially if you’re in a place that isn’t well ventilated.
When too much carbon monoxide is in the air you’re breathing, your body replaces the oxygen in your red blood cells with carbon monoxide. This prevents oxygen from reaching your tissues and organs.
Everyone is at risk for CO poisoning. Infants, the elderly, people with chronic heart disease, anemia, or breathing problems are more likely to get sick from CO. People who are sleeping or who have been drinking alcohol can have irreversible brain damage or die from CO poisoning before ever anyone realizes there’s a problem.
Depending on the degree and length of exposure, carbon monoxide poisoning can cause:
● Permanent brain damage
● Damage to your heart, possibly leading to life-threatening cardiac complications
● Fetal death or miscarriage
How to Recognize CO Poisoning
The warning signs of CO poisoning can be subtle, but because it is a life-threatening condition, it is important to be vigilant.
The most common symptoms of CO poisoning include dull headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, difficulty breathing, blurred vision, confusion, and loss of consciousness.
If you think you or someone you’re with may have carbon monoxide poisoning, get into fresh air and seek emergency medical care immediately. You should go to the hospital right away if you’ve been exposed to a source of CO, even if you don’t show symptoms of CO poisoning.
If you cannot get to the hospital immediately and someone you are with is unresponsive, not breathing, or not breathing normally, move them away from the source of CO. Call 911 and begin CPR if necessary. Continue CPR until the person begins breathing or emergency help arrives. Even if you are able to resuscitate someone who has been poisoned by CO, please seek emergency medical care. This is not a condition to take lightly, as even minor cases can cause long-term, serious complications including brain damage, heart damage, organ damage, and of course, death.
Note: if you do not know how to perform CPR, please learn as soon as possible so you are prepared in case of an emergency like CO poisoning. The best way to learn is via hands-on instruction, but if you don’t have access to a course, at the very least, buy a guide and study it. In fact, buying a guide to keep on hand is a great idea anyway – even for those who have been trained in CPR.
If you believe YOU have been poisoned by CO, go outdoors immediately and call 911. Don’t drive yourself to the hospital (unless it is your only option) because you may pass out while driving.
Diagnosis and Treatment
A doctor or nurse will take a blood sample to determine the amount of CO in the blood. Once CO levels increase to 70 parts per million (ppm) and above, symptoms become more noticeable.
The best way to treat CO poisoning is to breathe in pure oxygen. This treatment increases oxygen levels in the blood and helps to remove CO from the blood. The emergency healthcare provider will place an oxygen mask over your nose and mouth and ask you to inhale. If you’re unable to breathe on your own, you will be given oxygen through a ventilator.
Pressurized oxygen chambers (also known as a hyperbaric oxygen chambers) are also used to treat CO poisoning. The oxygen chamber has twice the pressure of normal air. This treatment quickly increases oxygen levels in the blood and it’s typically used in severe cases of CO poisoning or to treat CO poisoning in pregnant women.
Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Risks specific to off-grid and emergency situations
When power outages occur after severe weather, using alternative sources of power can cause carbon monoxide (CO) to build up in a home and poison the people and animals inside.
During any kind of emergency that results in a power outage, you may be so consumed by doing the things you need to do to survive that the thought of CO poisoning doesn’t cross your mind. For this reason, it is important to understand the risks and learn how to prevent poisoning now, while you are clear-headed and can prepare adequately.
One of your first precautionary measures should be installing battery-operated or battery back-up CO detectors near every sleeping area in your home. Check your CO detectors regularly to be sure they are functioning properly.
There are many sources of possible CO poisoning that are commonly used during off-grid events and power outages.
CO is found in fumes produced by portable generators, stoves, lanterns, and gas ranges, or by burning charcoal and wood.
Never use a generator inside your home or garage, even if all the doors and windows are open. Only use generators outside – and be sure to place them more than 20 feet away from your home.
Never use grills, or other gasoline, propane, or charcoal-burning devices inside your home, garage, or carport or near doors, windows, or vents. If you have a gas oven, do not attempt to heat your home with it.
Recreational vehicles with gas heaters also pose a risk, so ensure there is plenty of ventilation if your RV burns gas, wood, propane, or other fuel. Buy a CO detector and place it in an area near the source of CO. Be sure to change the batteries regularly.
Don’t sleep near a gas or kerosene space heater.
The CDC provides the following CO poisoning prevention tips:
● Change the batteries in your CO detector every six months. If you don’t have a battery-powered or battery back-up CO detector, buy one soon.
● Never leave the motor running in a vehicle parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed space, such as a garage.
● Never run a generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine inside a basement, garage, or other enclosed structure, even if the doors or windows are open. Keep vents and flues free of debris. Flying debris can block ventilation lines.
● Never run a motor vehicle, generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine less than 20 feet from an open window, door, or vent where exhaust can vent into an enclosed area.
● When you use a generator, use a battery-powered or battery backup CO detector in your home too.
● Never use a charcoal grill, hibachi, lantern, or portable camping stove inside a home, tent, or camper.
● If it’s too hot, seek shelter with friends or at a community shelter.
● If you suspect CO poisoning, call 911 or a health care professional right away.