Every Minnesotan is familiar with piling on coats, hats, mittens and other clothing to stay protected from the elements during the winter months. So far this year HCMC has treated at least 78 patients with complications from hypothermia – literally meaning “low (body) temperature.” No one plans to become hypothermic; car trouble, walking home from a party, or a slip and fall on the ice are just a few ways people inadvertently get over-exposed to the harsh cold.
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It’s colorless and odorless, and it claims the lives of more than 400 people in the United States every year. It’s carbon monoxide (CO), and it can be found in the exhaust of gasoline engines, stoves, generators, lanterns or by burning charcoal and wood.
Some of the symptoms of CO poisoning include nausea and vomiting, headache, dizziness, fainting and confusion — symptoms that are similar to — and often mistaken for — stomach flu.
“But if there’s a CO source, and others are also feeling ill, CO should be the first suspect,” explains Dr. Cheryl Adkinson, Medical Director of the Center for Hyperbaric Medicine at HCMC. ”Don’t dismiss the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. You should get medical help right away if you think you’ve been exposed to this deadly gas.”
For those who plan on doing a little fishing once the lakes are frozen, it’s important to know that carbon monoxide poisoning can set in within a few minutes in a small, heated and confined space like an ice house.
Make sure you enjoy the great winter weather — but don’t let carbon monoxide poisoning or any other safety concern get in the way! Visit hcmc.org/outdoors for more information about how to avoid CO poisoning and keep those outdoor activities safe.