As winter advances, one of the biggest challenges is keeping warm.
Many families burn wood. But in badly ventilated spaces, the wood can release particles into the air which cause respiratory problems. There can also be a build-up of deadly carbon monoxide (CO) gas.
Burning wood releases particles into the air. When these particles are inhaled, they travel deep inside the lungs, causing damage and inflammation. This can aggravate asthma and cause shortness of breath and laboured breathing. It can also increase the chance of death in people already suffering from respiratory and heart problems.
Carbon monoxide poisoning
When fuel is burned, it uses up oxygen and releases carbon dioxide. If the carbon dioxide builds up, the fuel is prevented from burning properly and starts releasing CO. CO is particularly dangerous because it is colourless and odourless and even a small amount can cause death.
What are the symptoms of CO poisoning?
Early symptoms of CO poisoning such as headaches, nausea, and fatigue, are often mistaken for the flu. Other symptoms are dizziness, shortness of breath, impaired judgment, chest pain, confusion, depression, hallucinations, vomiting, abdominal pain, fainting, seizure and memory loss.
What should I do?
Prevention is crucial. Make sure the chimney pipe of your heating stove is well-sealed and clean. You should clean the soot out of the chimney once a week. If you suspect a build-up of CO, move all family members and pets away from the CO source and into fresh air. If you suspect CO poisoning, you must immediately seek medical attention at a hospital emergency department. The treatment for CO poisoning is high-dose oxygen, usually using a facemask.
What can I do to protect my family?
For good health, clean air in winter is just as important as keeping warm. A temperature of at least 18 degrees Celsius in living rooms is recommended; that rises to 21 degrees for older people and babies. You should open the windows from time to time to ventilate the room.