Carbon monoxide poisoning
You can’t see it.You can’t taste it. You can’t smell it – but carbon monoxide is very poisonous and can kill without warning in a matter of hours. You're particularly vulnerable when you're asleep.
The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can be similar to flu – you may suffer from headaches, nausea, drowsiness, dizziness and pains in the chest and stomach that appear to get better when you're away from the area.
Carbon monoxide is produced when carbon-based fuels (gas, oil, wood or coal) aren't burnt properly and there is insufficient air or ventilation in the room.
It's often produced by appliances that have been installed or maintained incorrectly. Signs to look out for include yellow or orange flames, soot or stains around the appliance and pilot lights that frequently blow out, but these signs are not conclusive.
To see if you're affected, ask yourself:
- Is more than one person in the house affected?
- Do the symptoms ease or disappear when you're away from the house but recur on returning home?
- Are the symptoms related to the use of a fuel burning appliance?
- Are the symptoms worse in winter, when the heating is in use?
If an appliance is emitting carbon monoxide and you've been exposed recently, go to hospital and tell them you believe you have been poisoned by carbon monoxide. They'll need to determine your Carboxyhemoglobin level with a blood test. You should be treated as an emergency case, so it's a good idea to take someone with you.
More information on carbon monoxide awareness is available from:
- Carbon Monoxide - Be Alarmed! - campaign backed by victims’ charities, professional organisations and energy companies
- Health and Safety Executive website
- Carbon Monoxide Consumer Awareness Alliance (COCAA)
Benefits of fitting an audible carbon monoxide alarm
A carbon monoxide detector alerts you to carbon monoxide (CO) being present in your home. We strongly recommend you use one, regardless of whether you have an oil, gas or wood burning boiler, water heater or cooker.
You can be particularly at risk from CO poisoning when you're asleep and an audible detector could alert you and save your life. But it shouldn’t be regarded as a substitute for the proper installation and maintenance of gas appliances by a Gas Safe RegisterTM engineer.
Before purchasing a CO alarm, make sure it complies with British Standard EN 50291 and carries a British or European approval mark, such as a Kitemark. Carbon monoxide detectors should be installed, checked and serviced in line with the manufacturer’s instructions.
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