Using gas heaters in closed spaces can lead to CO poisoning, here are steps you can take to avoid it

As winter comes, the number of patients in hospitals suffering from Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning increases.

While the winter has arrived in full swing, people in Kashmir, having abandoned the conventional Hamaams have taken to more ‘modern’ Gas heaters/Gas Bukharis.

Owing to non-availability of wood, high cost of construction for the Hamaams, Gas heaters may seem like a very clean and easy option, with its ease of use.

But Gas heaters come with a full range of harmful effects, whether in form of dangers of giving rise to fires, or the serious health effects ranging from simple breathlessness, to death.The open flame of these heaters, reduce the oxygen level in the room, and instead replace it with Carbon Dioxide and Carbon Monoxide.

Health problems are mainly caused by Carbon Monoxide (CO) from a faulty gas heater or usage of the heater without following the guidelines of ventilation.

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Carbon Monoxide, which is produced along with Carbon Dioxide in a flame, is colourless and odourless. High levels of Carbon Monoxide in the air are very dangerous and may cause people to pass out or even die. It mixes with the blood, and takes away the haemoglobin’s ability to carry oxygen to the vital organs of the body.

Children, pregnant women and their unborn babies, older people, and people with chronic illnesses such as heart and lung disease, are at an increased risk from Carbon Monoxide.

However many deaths and number of complications can be avoided by making public aware of the signs/symptoms and the preventive measures.

The factors which increase the likelihood of Carbon monoxide poisoning include:
Faulty heater or gas piping.
Poorly ventilated room, if it becomes stuffy, open windows and doors to allow fresh air in immediately.
Sitting too close to the heater.
Sleeping with the heater on. It is probably the single worst cause of poisoning.
Moving unit while it is in use. First turn it off and wait for it cool down a little before moving it around
Gas heater used in a congested over-crowded room.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include:
Shortness of breath
Chest pain

If you suspect you may be affected by Carbon Monoxide:
Open windows and doors.
Turn off the appliance.
Go outside to breathe fresh air.
See your Doctor and ask whether your symptoms may be related to carbon monoxide.
Consider safer alternatives of keeping warm like electric radiators or heaters (even though even they aren’t completely safe).
Get your gas heater serviced before you use it again.
Periodic inspection of your unit along with gas cylinder and the tubing.
If you know someone in a situation like this, consider checking in them and raise an alarm for help.

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With more than three months of winter ahead of us, all of us will find a need of using heating devices.

If you are using your gas heater, consider safe alternatives of keeping warm, as cold temperatures may also cause health problems, particularly for young children, older people and those with chronic illnesses.


Khawar Khan Achakzai  is the Registrar Medicine at Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital. Khan is also a writer and a social activist.  

Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position and policy of Free Press Kashmir.


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