As temperatures drop, more people will turn on heaters to stay warm. The nation's emergency physicians warn about the potential risks involved with heating your homes and bodies.
"Every year, tragically, people are burned, start fires, get an electric shock and even die from carbon monoxide poisoning, because they weren't taking proper precautions," said Dr. Alex Rosenau, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). "I don't want anyone in my emergency department suffering from an injury that could have been easily prevented."
Each year more than 2,500 people died in house fires in the United States, according to FEMA and another 12,600 are injured.
Another big concern each fall and winter is carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is an odorless and colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and even death. People can be poisoned by breathing it.
The most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. High levels can cause loss of consciousness. Every home should have a carbon monoxide detector, and if you have any of these symptoms, you should seek emergency care.
ACEP recommends the following:
• Check all smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. Make certain they are working properly. If they are battery operated, change the batteries. There should be one of each detector on every floor of your house.
• Have a professional inspect your gas furnace at least once a year. One with leaks or cracks can be dangerous for your home, leaking carbon monoxide or possibly causing a fire.
• If you use a fireplace, have a professional inspect and clean it every year to avoid fires. Also make sure any flammable materials are away from the open flame area. Never burn trash, cardboard boxes or items that may contain chemicals that can poison your home.
• If you use a wood burning stove, have a professional inspect and clean the chimney each year. Make sure you have a safe perimeter around it, because it can radiate excessive heat. Place on a flame-resistant carpet, use a screen to prevent sparks and hot coals from coming out of the stove. Use safe woods, such as oak, hickory and ash - avoid pine and cedar.
• Never use a range (electric or gas) or oven as a heating source. It's not only a dangerous fire hazard; it can release dangerous fumes, such as carbon monoxide.
• If you use an electric space heater, keep a safe perimeter around it. Make sure it is away from water or anything flammable like curtains, paper, blankets, or furniture. Check for any faulty wiring that can cause electric shock or fire. Supervise children and pets around space heaters, and turn them off before leaving the room or going to sleep.