The silent killer: carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous gas. You can’t smell it, you can’t taste it, but it can kill you.

More than 2001 people are admitted into hospitals with carbon monoxide poisoning every year in the UK, and 40 people of those lose their lives to this silent killer.

What is carbon monoxide and what causes it to leak?

CO is produced when fuels such as gas, coal, oil or wood do not burn fully. When a fire burns in an enclosed space, the oxygen gets used up and is replaced by CO.

This substance can leak into your home via incorrectly installed, poorly maintained or badly ventilated household appliances. Cookers, heaters and central heating boilers are the most common sources of a CO leak.

Blocked flues and chimneys are also a problem, as they prevent the gas escaping, leading to the amount of CO in your home reaching dangerous levels.

Learn how to spot the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.

You could have carbon monoxide poisoning if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tiredness and confusion
  • Stomach pain
  • Breathing difficulties

Carbon monoxide poisoning can feel similar to food poisoning or the flu, but without a temperature.

If you are exposed to high levels of CO gas, you’ll need to undergo oxygen therapy in hospital, which involves breathing in 100% oxygen through a tight-fitting mask to replace your body’s carboxyhaemoglobin.

Sadly, 10-15% of people who endure life-threatening carbon monoxide poisoning develop long-term health complications such as damage to the heart and brain, which is why it is so important to do everything in your power to detect a gas leak before it’s too late.

Warning signs that could indicate you have a gas leak:

  • other people in your building start developing symptoms
  • your symptoms disappear when you go away and return when you’re back at home
  • your symptoms tend to be seasonal (e.g. you experience headaches in the winter when your heating is on)
  • your pets become ill
  • black, sooty marks appear around your gas fire, boiler or stove
  • rooms become smoky due to blocked flues
  • the flames from your gas appliances are yellow (they should be blue).

If you suspect a CO leak, immediately turn off every gas appliance in your home, open all of the windows and move away from the leak. You will need to call a Gas Safe registered engineer out to your address in order to stop the gas leak and you should visit your GP for a health check-up as soon as possible.

How to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Educate your entire household on the symptoms of CO poisoning
  • Install a carbon monoxide alarm
  • Have a Gas Safe engineer service your gas appliances annually to ensure all equipment is functioning safely

From October 2015, carbon monoxide alarms will be compulsory in all rental properties. WPJ Heating are providing early installation for property owners throughout south west London to help them stay on top of the law and reduce the risk of penalty – ask us about our gas safety services today.

1 NHS, 2015. Carbon monoxide poisoning. [Online] Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/carbon-monoxide-poisoning/Pages/Introduction.aspx. [Accessed 23rd April 2015].

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