Health Watch -- Fireplace Tune-up

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

Could that crackling fire that makes your home feel cozy be a danger to your family?

When fall's cooler temperatures make it a nice night for a fire, or when you need to turn on your home's heater, you could be introducing a colorless, odorless poison into your home. Doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say anything that burns inefficiently can produce carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide poisoning causes headaches, disorientation and even death. It's sometimes called a silent killer because its victims may not even realize they're being poisoned. They may just feel drowsy, fall asleep and never wake up.

That's why Dr. Greene Shepherd, a UT Southwestern emergency physician and director of the North Texas Poison Center, says anyone with a fireplace or with gas heat should have a working carbon monoxide detector in their home. These detectors look a lot like smoke detectors and are found in just about any home repair store.

You should also make sure any gas or wood-burning fireplaces, water heaters or heating systems are working properly. It's a good idea to get these things inspected every year. The start of the heating season is a good time for an inspection.

If everyone in the house gets a headache at the same time, that could be a sign of carbon monoxide poisoning. Pets and children are likely to be the first to show symptoms. Get your family out into fresh air and call emergency services, then get your fireplace or heater inspected before you use it again.