The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide
Carbon monoxide (CO), like many gases, cannot be detected by our human senses. We cannot see it, smell it or taste it and being exposed to small amounts are extremely harmful. In 2018 two men were found dead at a house in London after suspected carbon monoxide poisoning and five other people were treated in hospital.
In homes across the United Kingdom, carbon monoxide poisoning accounts for an average of 50 recorded deaths a year and up to 4,000 medical visits, according to the Department of Health and Social Care.
What is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a colourless, tasteless and odourless gas that is extremely difficult to detect. It is produced when fuels such as oil, coal, gas and wood are burned and is often known as the silent killer. Some of the most common causes of CO poisoning are poorly installed, faulty or inadequately maintained household appliances such as cookers, heaters and boilers.
When you breathe in carbon monoxide it enters your bloodstream and mixes with haemoglobin, the part of the red blood cells that are responsible for carrying oxygen around your body. When this happens, the blood is no longer able to transport oxygen which in turn causes the body’s cells and tissue to die.
There are four key questions that should be asked to help diagnose domestic carbon monoxide poisoning. These questions can be remembered using the acronym COMA: –
C – Cohabitants and roommates – is anyone else in the house affected (including pets)?
O – Outdoors – do your symptoms improve when out of the house?
M – Maintenance – are heating and cooking appliances properly maintained?
A – Alarm – is there a carbon monoxide alarm fitted?
The answers given for each question should raise or lower suspicion of poisoning by carbon monoxide.
What Causes Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
Carbon monoxide is formed when organic compounds burn, the most common sources are engine fumes from motor vehicles, smoke from fires and non-electric heaters. CO poisoning is often associated with malfunctioning or obstructed exhaust systems, some of the common sources are as follows: –
- Gas water heaters
- Charcoal grills
- Propane heaters and stoves
- Petrol and diesel-powered generators
- Propane-fuelled forklifts
- Boat engines
Signs of carbon monoxide are: –
- Boiler pilot light flames burning orange instead of blue
- Sooty stains on or near appliances
- Excessive condensation in the room
- Coal or wood fires that burn slowly or go out
- Families suffering prolonged, flu-like symptoms.
How can you prevent CO poisoning?
- Ensure there’s plenty of ventilation in areas with appliances or in a recreational vehicle that burn gas, wood, propane or other fuel.
- Buy a CO detector and place it in an area near the source of CO. Make sure to change the batteries regularly.
- Don’t fall asleep or sit for a long time in an idling car that’s in an enclosed space.
- Don’t sleep near a gas or kerosene space heater.
- Don’t ignore symptoms of CO poisoning.
If you’ve been exposed to CO, get outdoors immediately and call 999. Don’t go back into the area until emergency service professionals tell you that it’s safe to return.
What are the Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
It is extremely important to be aware of the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning. Symptoms include those similar to food poisoning and the flu with the most common being headaches. Some of the key signs to look out for are:
- Dizziness or nausea
- Tiredness and confusion
- Stomach pain
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Other tell-tale signs include:
- other people in the house, flat or workplace with similar symptoms.
- the symptoms disappear while away on holiday or away from the home for a period of time but return when you return.
- Seasonal symptoms, for example more frequent headaches during the winter when central heating is used more often.
If you experience any of these symptoms and suspect that carbon monoxide is the cause you should stop using all cooking and heating appliances immediately, open all the windows in your house or building and call the Gas Safety Advice Line on 0800 300 363.
What can be done to prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
There are a number of measures that can be put in place to avoid getting CO poisoning, you can take the following preventive measures:
- Have your gas appliances serviced annually by a gas engineer who is registered with the Gas Safe Register.
- Use professionals to annually service any other fossil-fuel burning appliances, such as oil or coal burning stoves.
- Fit a good CO alarm that will detect a carbon monoxide leak and sound a loud alarm to alert you. There are a number of standalone CO alarms and CO alarms that can be integrated into an existing fire alarm available.
- Ensure detectors are maintained and replaced according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
We hope you found our article about CO informative. If you have any concerns about your home or place of work, consult a professional!
Until next time…Stay safe!