AUSTIN (KXAN) – Carbon monoxide poisoning is one of the leading causes of death during a winter storm. More than 4,000 people are hospitalized each year because of it. During the 2021 Winter Storms, there were dozens of reports of CO poisoning.

Why do these reports increase during the colder months?

“People looking for alternative ways to heat their homes with devices that are only intended to be used outdoors,” said Trauma Injury Prevention Coordinator Kristen Hullum with St. David’s Round Rock Medical Center.

Hullum says that portable generators, poorly ventilated fireplaces and outdoor stoves being used indoors for warmth are the primary culprits. Also, people use their car for warmth in an enclosed space, such as a closed garage. Car exhaust releases a lot of carbon monoxide.

What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisonings?

“That’s kind of what makes carbon monoxide poisoning so dangerous is that sometimes the signs and symptoms are nothing until it’s too late,” Hullum said. “People don’t realize that it’s happening until there’s really a severe problem.”

Hullum says symptoms include:

  • Mild Headache
  • Dizziness or Lightheadedness
  • Confusion
  • Nausea

What to do if you experience symptoms

Hullum said that if you experience symptoms, you need to get out into fresh air immediately, open all your windows and call 911. You may need extra oxygen and probably don’t want to be waiting long in freezing temperatures.

“It would be better to just add layers and layers and layers and get under blanket to try to stay warm rather than trying to create a heat source that is unsafe.”

Carbon monoxide poisonings when it isn’t freezing

Hullum noted that carbon monoxide poisonings happen year-round, not just during freezing temperatures. They can happen because of an issue with your gas heater or stove. She recommends you get a carbon monoxide detector in your home in any area where you sleep.