As Houstonians brace for more below-freezing temperatures, medical experts with The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) are concerned those without power may continue to turn to risky measures to heat their homes that could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Hilary Fairbrother, MD, MPH, vice-chair of education and an associate professor of emergency medicine with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, shares that even though it is uncomfortable to be without power for extended periods, a home that is maintaining temperatures within the 40s is not considered life-threatening.
“The most important thing is staying dry, and I know it’s not pleasant, but if you are in a place that is dry and you can wear extra layers and stay bundled under blankets, you will be safe,” she said.
Houston has already recorded more than 300 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning, including some deaths. “Those most vulnerable to carbon monoxide poisoning are the elderly, pregnant women, and children,” said Fairbrother, who is an attending physician in the emergency centers at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and Harris Health Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you should AVOID these heating measures to prevent carbon monoxide exposure:
DO NOT run a vehicle inside of a garage. Even with the garage door fully open, the vehicle can still produce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. If you want to use your vehicle to warm up, take a slow trip around the block or around the parking lot, but get your vehicle away from your garage and home. The roads are clear and should be safe.
DO NOT attempt to heat your home with a gas oven or stove.
DO NOT bring outdoor heating appliances such as generators, grills, camp stoves, or any other charcoal-burning or gas-powered device inside your home or garage. Place the appliance outside at least 20 feet away from any window, door, or vent to your home.
The CDC has Prevention Guidelines in 16 additional languages here.
Call 911 and seek immediate medical attention if you feel lightheaded, dizzy, or nauseous. Common carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms include headache, weakness, an upset stomach or vomiting, as well as chest pain and confusion.
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