Why storms and power outages increase your family’s chances for carbon monoxide poisoning

Why storms and power outages increase your family’s chances for carbon monoxide poisoning

Breathing in high levels of CO can cause loss of consciousness and death.

Severe storms — such as tornados and thunderstorms — strike most often in Wisconsin during the summer months when temperatures are warm. It’s important to know the danger isn’t over once the storm blows through — especially if power is knocked out.

Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is the most common poison-related cause of hospitalization and death in the wake of severe storms.

Tips for using portable generators safely

It is called a “silent killer” because there are no odors and few symptoms that signal a problem. When people use generators improperly — too close to homes, in garages or outside bedroom windows — CO can seep in and sicken or even kill.

In 2012, Wisconsin Poison Center handled nearly 300 cases of CO exposure. We put together some important tips for using portable generators safely:

  • Carefully follow the manufacturer’s safety instructions for portable generators.
  • Never use portable generators indoors, in garages or near open windows.
  • Do not siphon gasoline by mouth to fill a generator with fuel.
  • Use battery-operated (or battery-backup) carbon monoxide alarms. Be sure to test the batteries.
  • If you experience sleepiness, dizziness, headaches, confusion or weakness, or if your carbon monoxide alarm goes off, immediately get fresh air and call the Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222.

CO poisoning can be difficult to diagnose

Breathing in high levels of CO can cause loss of consciousness and death. Unless suspected, CO poisoning can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms mimic other illnesses. People who are sleeping or intoxicated can die from CO poisoning before ever experiencing symptoms.

If you are concerned about a reaction you are having or have questions about CO poisoning, call Wisconsin Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222. Experts are here all day, every day, to answer your questions and help you in a poisoning emergency. Calls are free, fast and confidential.

If you or someone you know can’t breathe, collapses or has a seizure, call 9-1-1 right away. 

Meg Lesnick- Meg Lesnick, external relations specialist, Wisconsin Poison Center

The Wisconsin Poison Center, located in Milwaukee, provides 24-hour, toll-free poison information for all individuals in Wisconsin. For any poison emergency, call (800) 222-1222

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