PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Every winter, dozens of people in our area go to emergency rooms or die in their homes due to carbon monoxide.
It's often called the "silent killer" because it is odorless, tasteless, colorless - and deadly.
The Poison Control Center at CHOP says it receives numerous calls every hurricane or snowstorm related to CO poisoning due to improper use of gas-powered generators, grills, and cooking stoves, as well as from snow-obstructed exhaust pipes on cars.
Carbon monoxide is made when any appliance that burns wood or fuel (oil, gas, propane, kerosene, coal) is malfunctioning or poorly vented.
CO poisoning is often mistaken for flu.
The early symptoms of include headache, nausea, sleepiness, dizziness, and confusion.
In severe cases CO can cause coma, heart attack, and death.
Be suspicious that CO may be the culprit if symptoms occur shortly after using a furnace or generator, if multiple family members become sick at the same time, or if symptoms improve when outside of a home or building.
To make sure carbon monoxide doesn't cause problems in your home, the experts at CHOP recommend:
* Never use barbecue grills or gasoline-powered equipment indoors or in a garage.
* During power outages, gasoline-powered generators should only be used outdoors, away from vents or windows, and at least 25 feet from the house.
* Don't use gas ovens to heat your home.
* Avoid sitting in a car with the engine running if deep snow or mud is blocking the exhaust pipe.
* Install CO monitors in your home and make sure all monitors have fresh, working batteries.
If you think carbon monoxide is in your home, you may attempt to air out the house, shut off the heating system, and call 911 or your heating company.
If you have any symptoms and suspect CO poisoning, leave the area immediately and contact The Poison Control Center or 911.
The Poison Control Center's toll-free 24-hour hotline is 1-800-222-1222.