Read this post: CO kills

What is carbon monoxide?
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a gas made from the inefficient burning of carbon-based fuels like coal, wood, oil, propane, and natural gas. Your risk of exposure increases if these fuels are burned in small spaces with improper ventilation such as in garages or basement rooms.

How do I know if I’m exposed?
It’s difficult to tell if you’re being exposed to CO because it has no color or scent and is not irritating to your nose, mouth, or throat. So, it’s impossible to tell that you’re breathing it. CO poisoning is more common in winter months because it’s produced by heaters and can accumulate indoors. CO poisoning is responsible for 40,000 Emergency Department visits and 5,000-6,000 deaths each year, making it one of the most common poisons.

How does CO work?
Hemoglobin is a protein in your blood which is responsible for shuttling oxygen to all the cells in your body. Unfortunately, CO is very easily absorbed through the lungs and binds hemoglobin more readily than oxygen, so the blood carries CO instead of oxygen to the tissues. This results in a state of oxygen deprivation at the cellular level. Mild-to-moderate CO poisoning can cause general symptoms such as headache, nausea, and dizziness. Infants and toddlers, who are unable to vocalize their complaints, may only have fussiness or difficulty feeding. CO poisoning can also occasionally cause a “cherry red” discoloration of the lips and skin. More severe poisoning can cause confusion, heart rhythm problems, fluid buildup in the lungs, or loss of consciousness, followed by death.

How do I prevent CO poisoning?
The best way to avoid CO poisoning is to minimize the chance of it entering your environment in the first place. It is essential to not run fuel-burning heaters, equipment in enclosed spaces such as garages or poorly ventilated rooms.

Some appliances which produce CO are used inside homes routinely, like gas fireplaces and boilers. It’s important to make sure they are installed and operated according to manufacturer instructions or installed and maintained by professionals. It is also essential to never cover the safety mechanisms used to vent fumes. Make sure vents and chimneys are not blocked and that the bottom of natural gas or propane ovens remain uncovered.

To prevent exposure from CO leaks it is very important to install functional CO alarms throughout your living space, including in hallways and near bedrooms. CO alarms should always be compliant with the requirements set forth by the UL 2034 safety standard.

Lastly, if you feel you are being exposed to CO you should leave the area immediately, make sure everyone else has left, and seek fresh air. Call the fire department to report the leak. And if you are experiencing symptoms, call 911.

Additional resources:

April 2015. This post was authored by Saad Arain, University of Illinois at Chicago medical student and Susan Buchanan, MD, MPH, Director of the Great Lakes Center for Children’s Environmental Health – Region 5 Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU).

How the environment can make your child’s asthma worse

As the season changes, many children may experience problems with their asthma. There are things you can do to reduce your child’s risk of an asthma attack caused by environmental exposures. Read on for information about this topic:

What is asthma?
Asthma is a disease of the small airways in the lungs, characterized by a response to certain conditions (“triggers”) that can result in inflammation, ultimately making it harder to breathe. Symptoms can include shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, or an asthma attack severe enough to send your child to the emergency room. Asthma is a chronic illness, meaning that it is impossible to cure, but there are measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of serious problems.

What are “asthma triggers?”
An asthma trigger is something in the environment that can make asthma worse. Common triggers include pet fur, dust mites, cockroaches, grass, cigarette smoke, indoor air contaminants, and air pollution. According to the US EPA, “Outdoor air pollution is caused by small particles and ground level ozone that comes from car exhaust, smoke, road dust and factory emissions. Particle pollution can be high any time of year and is higher near busy roads and where people burn wood.” Indoor air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides from your gas stove, chemicals in new furniture or carpeting, and mold overgrowth can also make asthma worse.

How can I help my child avoid outdoor asthma triggers?

• Know the Air Quality Index in your area. Communities of >300,000 residents are required to publish the daily air quality index. You can find out the AQI in your area by going here:

• If exercise makes your child’s asthma worse, he or she should still exercise to stay healthy and fit but might need to take more frequent breaks and sit down if it becomes hard to breathe. Children with severe asthma may need to limit their time outdoors on days when the AQI is > 100.

• Use your air conditioner to help filter the air coming into the home, and consider staying inside with the windows closed on high pollen and high AQI days.

What can I do to make my home as trigger-free as possible?
• Nobody should smoke near your child or in the child’s house. People who do smoke should change their clothes when they enter the house to stop the smoke fumes attached to clothing from getting near your child.

• Make sure your home is well ventilated. This will reduce fumes from gas stoves, wood stoves, paints, or exhausts.

• Clean up wet areas in your home quickly, since mold loves to grow in cool, moist areas. If your house has mold overgrowth, it should be cleaned and removed.

• Carpeting should be cleaned frequently, as dust and other airborne particles can stick to it and stay around. Removing carpeting and replacing it with wood or tile floors is even safer!

• Make sure your house’s air filter is clean and working properly.

• Cockroaches and rodents are common triggers, so remove spills and crumbs quickly, and keep all counters and floors clean.

• Some asthma is made worse by cat or dog hair, so you may need to minimize your child’s exposure to pets.

• Some common household products (pesticides, cosmetics, air fresheners, etc.) may leave behind airborne residue, so avoid spraying these heavily.

References and more Information:
“Common Asthma Triggers?” Centers for Disease Control
“Reduce Asthma Triggers.” American Lung Association

“Asthma Triggers and Management: Tips to Remember” American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology

“Environmental Management of Pediatric Asthma: Guidelines for Health Care Providers” National Environmental Education Foundation

“Asthma Triggers: Gain Control” Environmental Protection Agency

March 2015. This post was authored by Scott Resnick, University of Illinois at Chicago medical student and Susan Buchanan, MD, MPH, Director of the Great Lakes Center for Children’s Environmental Health – Region 5 Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU).

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