By Caitlin Chciuk
October 25, 2012
As the weather begins to get colder, it is important to know what kind of heating system your home has. If you live in an older house or apartment, it is essential to make sure your heating system is up to par. As sophomore English major Sarah Eckrich recently discovered, sometimes a little bit of heat to stave off the cold weather can cause some major problems.
Eckrich explained, “With the early onset of cold temperatures, my roommates and I had our landlord turn our heat on early this year.” But what she and her roommates did not know was that their gas furnace was slowly giving off small amounts of carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is the byproduct of combustion of fossil fuels. It is also odorless and colorless, so it is very difficult to detect. Exposure at high levels can be deadly, but what people do not realize is that prolonged exposure to low levels can be just as bad.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are actually similar to common signs of stress: fatigue, headaches, nausea, and irritability are commonly seen in conjunction with carbon monoxide poisoning. Eckrich explained that she and her roommates were all experiencing these signs, but attributed it to the stress of the semester. However, when Eckrich was on campus, at work, or visiting her family, the symptoms disappeared. Eventually, she made the connection that the gas furnace in their home could actually be to blame for what they all were feeling.
As it is the fire department’s job to test homes if a carbon monoxide problem is detected, Eckrich and her roommates called the Lock Haven fire department to test the air in their house; sure enough, the furnace was the cause of the problem. “They told us we needed to find some place to stay indefinitely, until our furnace could be serviced,” Eckrich explained. “And they told us we needed to go to the hospital to be checked for signs of carbon monoxide poisoning.”
The test performed at the hospital involved testing the blood for any red blood cells that were carrying carbon monoxide instead of oxygen (known as carboxyhemoglobin). While Eckrich’s levels were almost normal, the test still showed that she had been exposed. Treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning is normally exposure to pure oxygen to cleanse the blood of any poisoning.
“I can’t stress the importance of being educated and aware,” Eckrich explained. She urged others to know if anything in their house uses any fossil fuels — a quick phone call to a landlord to find out and also to have a carbon monoxide detector installed couldn’t hurt. Don’t take any symptoms lightly; if you know you have a gas furnace and that you’ve been feeling funny, get the air in your house tested. “It’s easy to think it won’t happen to you,” Eckrich said, “but if you find out you’ve been exposed, do not, for any reason, wait. Make no excuses; just go.”