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It was the night before Christmas, and not a creature was stirring, that is unless you count the toxic gas that was circulating throughout Ruth H’s house, causing her head and stomach to hurt all day.

“I thought I might have the flu, and I was tired all the sudden,” Ruth explained. When it only seemed to get worse and I no longer was no longer feeling festive, I called my son who came over to check on things. When he couldn’t find anything, but remembered my furnace was old and noticed the carbon monoxide detector was inoperable, he suspected he found the culprit. I was rushed to the emergency room where I was diagnosed with carbon monoxide poisoning and admitted for an overnight stay.”

Every winter, these stories are all too common. Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from household appliances such as stoves, kerosene heaters, grills, chimneys, lanterns and furnaces result in more than 20,000 emergency room visits, and 4,000 hospitalizations, says the Centers for Disease Control. What’s more, it’s called the silent, invisible killer because it’s a colorless, odorless gas that has been linked to 400 annual deaths throughout the United States.

These statistics are alarming and CO poisoning is scary enough. But, as a homeowner, there are steps you can take today to never fall victim. Here is our list.

lg-bryant-carbon-monoxide-alarmWorking detectors

It’s a fact that smoke and carbon monoxide detectors save lives, and you should have them installed on every floor of your home, preferably outside of bedrooms. It’s not a requirement in the state of Indiana, but for as little as $15 per detector, you and your family can have peace of mind. Batteries should be changed once in the fall and spring at the same time that you set your clocks.

Appliance checks, home inspections

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, gas appliances such as furnaces, oven ranges, and clothes dryers can emit CO fumes if they’re not properly installed. Therefore, you should always check them and work with a professional to be certain they are not only in working order, but that they are installed properly and not clogged. Technicians can also inspect your chimney, vents and ducts, and you should have them out at least once a year. It’s a small price to pay for your life.

We don’t mean to grill

If you’re a grill master, you should always practice grill safety by never grilling indoors or in your garage. Likewise, using a grill for heat is never a wise idea as it can not only set off a smoke alarm, but can contribute to CO fumes.

Fire protection

If you enjoy relaxing by a fire during the cold Indiana winters, always open the fireplace damper before ever striking the first match, and keep it that way until the ashes are cooled. Keeping an open damper can prevent any build-up of poisonous gases.

Know the symptoms

CO poisoning is especially concerning because its symptoms mimic the flu.  This can include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, sleepiness and confusion. If high levels of CO have been inhaled, you could have metal confusion, loss of muscle coordination and consciousness or else death. If you suspect any of your symptoms could be the result of CO poisoning, get outside immediately and call 911.

Although Ruth H’s holiday wasn’t the most joyous last year, we’re happy to report that thanks to the quick thinking of her son and a smart doctor, she is alive and looking forward to having the most wonderful time of the season in 2016.