Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Silent Killer That Could Be In Your Home

I have a ghost story to tell you.  I actually heard this story on a recent Halloween-themed This American Life episode.  The story is from a real account from a patient, written to her doctor on November 15, 1921.  It is an account of a strange series of events that she and her family experienced after moving into a new home.  The house was lit by gaslights rather than electricity, and was a rambling house with 3 floors, passageways, and servants' quarters.  In other words, the perfect house for a haunting!

Carbon Monoxide PoisoningThis is from Mrs. H's account to her doctor:

"One morning, I heard footsteps in the room over my head.  I hurried up the stairs.  To my surprise, the room was empty.  I passed into the next and then into all the rooms on that floor, then to the floor above to find that I was the only person in that part of the house.  Sometimes after I've gone to bed, the noises from the store room are tremendous, as if furniture was being piled against the door, as if china was being moved about, and occasionally a long and fearful sigh or wail.

Sometimes as I walk along the hall, I feel as if someone was following me, going to touch me.  You can not understand it if you've not experienced it.  But it's real.  As I was dressing for breakfast one morning, B, who is four years old, came to my room and asked me why I'd called him.  I told him I'd not called him.  With big and startled eyes he said, 'Who was it then that called me?  Who made that pounding noise?'"

Mrs. H went on to tell her doctor about seeing a young woman at the foot of her bed during the night, about feeling the bedclothes jerked off of her during the night, and feeling the presence of the "unknown".  She also told him that her family had all been feeling very tired and lethargic, and sometimes would have a temporary paralysis.  The plants in the home had even withered and died. 

This all sounds quite scary, and it actually is very scary, but for a different reason than you might think.  As it turned out, carbon monoxide gas from the furnace was flooding the home instead of escaping up the chimney.   Mrs. H thought there were ghosts trying to get them out of the house.  Instead, carbon monoxide poisoning was producing all the effects of a haunting, including delusions, hallucinations, lethargy, and more!  Her family was in danger alright.  They were actually lucky to be alive!

What do you need to know about carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide (CO) gas is colorless, odorless, and tasteless.  You can be poisoned by it without being aware.  All people and animals are susceptible to CO poisoning, but it is especially dangerous for the very young, elderly, and people who are otherwise ill. 

Carbon monoxide is produced whenever any fossil fuel is burned.  This includes gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal.  Chimneys, gas water heaters, furnaces, generators, grills, cars, and anything that uses fossil fuel all create CO, and therefore can put you at risk of CO poisoning if the exhaust is not vented properly.

What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

It can cause a wide range of symptoms and can kill you.  Here are some of the symptoms of CO poisoning:
  • Headaches
  • Hallucinations and confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Feeling tired and/or sleepy
  • Chest pain and/or shortness of breath
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Death
What do you need to do to protect yourself and your family?
  • Schedule annual heating maintenance with a professional.  
  • Make sure your furnace filter is changed regularly.
  • Make sure your chimney is cleaned and inspected regularly.  Don't use a fireplace that isn't drawing smoke upward adequately.  
  • Make sure you have carbon monoxide detectors in your home in these places.
    • On every level of your home
    • 5 feet from the ground
    • Near all sleeping areas
    • In the kitchen, living/dining room, and the office
    • In attached garages
  • Do not install CO detectors too close to fuel-burning equipment, windows and vents, in direct sunlight, or in excessively humid areas such as the bathroom.
Here are some things that you should NEVER do:
  • Never run a generator inside the house or garage, or close to any open windows or doors.  Your generator should be about 25 feet away from your house.
  • Never burn coal indoors or bring the grill inside either!
  • Do NOT heat your home with your gas oven or stove top, even if you have no other heat source!
  • Never let your car idle in the garage, even if the garage doors are open.
  • If your car is in a snow bank (from sliding into a snow bank or excessive snow accumulation while it was parked), clear all snow from around the tail pipe before starting your car.
If you or your family has any symptoms of CO poisoning, you should see a doctor immediately. 

If you want to listen to the story for yourself, or read it, follow this link

If you have any questions about carbon monoxide, please log into your account and send us your question. We are here to help.

Dr. Anita Bennett MD - Health Tip Content Editor

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Fire Safety

This past weekend was the "fall back" from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time.  We like to recommend that everyone use this time as a reminder to check your smoke alarms.  Fire safety is something that impacts your health status, so I want to remind you about this important issue.

Poison IvyWorking smoke alarms save lives!
  • Smoke alarms that are properly installed and maintained play a vital role in reducing fire-related deaths and injuries.  If there is a fire in your home, smoke spreads fast and you need smoke alarms to sound the warning so that you have time to get yourself and your loved ones out of danger.  
  • In 2012-2016, smoke alarms were present in three-quarters (74%) and sounded in more than half (53%) of the home fires reported to U.S. fire departments.
  • Almost three out of every five home fire deaths resulted from fires in home with no smoke alarms (40%), or no smoke alarms that were working at the time
  • The death rate per 1,000 reported home fires was more than twice as high in homes that did not have any working smoke alarms (either because no smoke alarm was present, or an alarm was present but did not operate), compared to homes with working smoke alarms.
  • In fires in which the smoke alarms were present but did not operate, 43% of the smoke alarms had missing or disconnected batteries.
  • Dead batteries caused 25% of the smoke alarm failures.
  • Make sure you have a smoke detector in every room, preferably in the center of the room.
False Alarms

Nuisance tripping of your smoke alarm is bound to happen occasionally.  For example, smoke from the stove could trip the alarm.  I know that has happened to me on more than one occasion!  Many people will remove the battery to silence the alarm, with the good intention of replacing it after the smoke clears.  Unfortunately, they often forget to replace them.  This is one of the most common causes of non-functioning smoke alarms.  Here are some better ways to deal with nuisance tripping:
  • Use an alarm with a "hush button."  This allows you to press the button when the smoke alarm sounds to allow a few minutes for the smoke to clear.  
  • Move the smoke alarm a little further from the stove top in the kitchen.
  • Open windows when you know you are cooking something that normally sets off the alarm.
  • Better yet, try a different type of alarm in the kitchen area.  Some experts say that a photoelectric smoke alarm is a little less sensitive to common causes of false alarms.  
Check your smoke alarms regularly
  • You should test your smoke alarms once a month, by pressing the test button, to make sure they are still working properly.  
  • Smoke alarms which use regular batteries should have the batteries changed once a year.  The "fall back" time change is a great reminder to change those batteries.
  • Some modern smoke alarms come with a lithium ion battery built in, which will last for 10 years.  This means that you don't have to change the battery every year; you just replace the smoke alarm after 10 years.  You need to write the date on the alarm, so that you remember when it is time to replace it.  However, you still have to test the alarm regularly to make sure it is working.
Hard wired alarms

Many homes today have smoke alarms wired right into the household electrical system.  Advantages of hard wired smoke alarms include:
  • You don't necessarily have to change the batteries every year, or replace them every 10 years.  However, some do have a battery back-up so the alarm will operate during a power failure.  You should find out if this is the case for yours, and how often that battery needs to be replaced.
  • You can also have the alarms interconnected.  This means that if one alarm in the house sounds, then the others will sound as well.  This can be a big advantage.  For example, if there is a fire in the basement, the basement smoke alarm might not wake you in your second floor bedroom.  If the alarms are interconnected, the alarm in the basement would trigger all of the alarms in the house, which provides you with an earlier warning to get out of the house in the case of a fire.  
Escape plan

Smoke and flames can spread quickly, so you need to react quickly.  It is easier to react quickly if you know exactly what to do when you hear the smoke alarm.  You should plan an escape route from every room in the house, and also name a specific safe area for everyone to meet outside your home.  Every family member should know and understand the plan.  It is also a good idea to rehearse the escape plan with your family.  Make sure planned escape windows are easy to open, and planned exits are not blocked. 
For more information about fire safety and smoke alarms, use this link to the International Association of Firefighters website:

If you have any questions about fire safety, please log into your account and send us your question. We are here to help.

Dr. Anita Bennett MD - Health Tip Content Editor

Friday, November 1, 2019

Exercise to Treat Chronic Pain

There are millions of Americans who suffer from chronic pain and/or chronic fatigue.  If you are one of them, exercise is very likely the best solution to improve, or better manage, your symptoms.  Wouldn't it be great to be able to do all of your normal daily activities and not have to worry so much about pain and fatigue?  Or maybe you would just like to have a little energy left over to enjoy some recreational activity.  There have been several recent research studies that have shown that the right exercise program can be the most beneficial treatment option available.

What is a pain cycle?

Exercise for painPain cycles begin when you make specific adjustments to your activity to avoid pain.  This leads to an inactive lifestyle.  Being inactive leads to deconditioning, in which your muscles get weaker, and your joints get stiffer.  Then when you try to be physically active, you have even more pain and fatigue, so you become even less physically active.  This cycle can lead to very significant weakness, fatigue, pain, and even further injuries.  This can be very debilitating.  Exercise is the first step to breaking this cycle.

What should you do if you suffer from chronic pain?

Your body has probably already adapted to this pain cycle.  The idea of exercising may seem like the last thing that you want to do.  In fact, breaking out of this pain cycle can be very difficult, especially if this has been going on for a long time.  Some people feel like when they exercise, they will only get a flare up of pain, or fatigue, so it just feels better to avoid activity.

The latest research shows that more rest is not the best way to treat your pain.  Just the opposite is true!  Research shows that patients with chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia report decreased fatigue, decreased pain, as well as decreased stress and other symptoms after starting a program of regular moderate exercise.  At the same time, it improved their perception of their health, physical function, and their overall aerobic fitness.

Even though it may cause some discomfort in the beginning, re-training and re-conditioning your body can improve pain and fatigue in the long run.  Even people who don't suffer from chronic pain or fatigue have some pain or muscle soreness when they begin an exercise routine.

I remember several times in my life when I had to be inactive for several weeks for various reasons.  Even after just a few weeks, starting back on my usual exercise routine caused significant muscle soreness that lasted for the first week, then it all started to get better, and I was able to increase my activity to get back into my regular exercise routine.

The first step is to start a gradually increasing program of aerobic exercise, such as walking or pool exercises.  Even low intensity exercise can lead to less muscle and joint pain, as well as more energy.  As your fitness improves, you can increase your level of exercise.

How do you get started in an exercise program?

First make sure that you contact your doctor to make sure that you are healthy enough for exercise.
Start by just gradually increasing your usual daily activities.  For instance, park further away from the grocery store entrance, take the stairs whenever you can, get up more often to do activities around the house, or maybe walk leisurely around at the local mall.

Then start a more formal exercise routine, such as walking specifically for exercise, or maybe doing some pool exercises or ride a stationary bike.  Tai chi is a great way to start if you have been very inactive.  Start with one or two days a week, even as little as 5-10 minutes each time.  From there you can gradually build up to three, then four days a week.  Then start adding time to your exercise.  Go up to 15 minutes, then increase by five minute increments every week or two, up to 30 minutes or more.  If you're doing well with that, then try to do five days a week or even every day if you can.  It won't be long before you are exercising 30 minutes a day, and feeling so much better.

Be sure to listen to your body and be gentle with yourself.  Avoid increasing the time or intensity of your work out too quickly.  If you overdo, you may not feel up to exercising the next time.  The consistency of exercise is more important than the intensity of the exercise, especially in the beginning.

There are lots of exercise programs that cater to people with arthritis or other painful conditions.  Some hospitals do a community water aerobics class in their therapy pool, and community centers often have Tai Chi classes or other group exercise classes geared toward beginners or specifically for people with arthritis.  Exercising with a group can make the activity much more enjoyable.  Just check in your local community to see what they have to offer.

If you have any questions about exercising for chronic pain, please log into your account and send us your question. We are here to help.

Dr. Anita Bennett MD - Health Tip Content Editor