Portable heating devices, such as this unit that burns propane, pose the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and fires if not used properly.

Emergency Physicians Warn of CO Poisoning Dangers

This hazard is especially present during winter months when people use heaters and stoves indoors to stay warm.

Portable heaters that burn kerosene, propane, natural gas, or butane pose the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and fires if not used properly, authorities warn. The American College of Emergency Physicians issued guidance Dec. 15 reminding Americans that CO poisoning cases are more common during winter months because people are using heaters and stoves indoors to stay warm.

"This colorless, odorless gas is deadly if you don't take precautionary steps or notice the symptoms," said Dr. Sandra Schneider, president of ACEP. "Thinking about it now and acting to prevent the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning may save your life and the lives of those around you."

According to ACEP, more than 400 deaths occur annually in the United States die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning and 20,000 additional people visit emergency departments, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The college says people should be alert to spot the potential signs of CO poisoning, which include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion

"If you get bad headaches or suffer from any of these symptoms, you may easily confuse them with the flu," said Schneider. "People should be concerned about the possible presence of carbon monoxide if more than one person living or working together develops these symptoms simultaneously over a short period of time."

Homeowners should install CO detectors on each level of the home, especially near sleeping areas. They should ensure gas appliances are properly vented and are installed or maintained by qualified professionals, ACEP advises.

The American College of Emergency Physicians Foundation offers safety tips about carbon monoxide, alcohol consumption during the holidays, and other hazards at this website.

Sylvane Inc. and others also offer guidance for safely using portable heaters.

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