What is carbon monoxide (CO)?
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a highly poisonous gas produced by the incomplete burning of natural gas or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). This can happen when a gas appliance has been incorrectly fitted, badly repaired or poorly maintained. It can also occur if flues, chimneys or vents are blocked. Solid fuels, such as coal, wood, petrol, as well as oil, can also produce carbon monoxide when they burn.
CO can be deadly and is especially dangerous because you can’t see, taste or smell it, and some symptoms mimic the effects of viruses and even a bad hangover. It’s important to know the physical symptoms of CO poisoning to ensure you seek help quickly.
What are the physical symptoms of CO poisoning?
CO poisoning occurs when you breathe in CO and it replaces the oxygen in your bloodstream, causing body tissue and cells to die. Even small amounts of the gas can cause poisoning, and long term exposure can result in paralysis and even brain damage.
CO poisoning symptoms are similar to those of flu, food poisoning, viral infections, fatigue, and a hangover which makes it easy to mistake this very dangerous poisoning for something else.
The six main symptoms to look out for are:
Anybody who has overdone it on a night out will be familiar with some or all of those symptoms, but if you experience them without drinking it’s time to be concerned. Being aware of these symptoms could save your life.
There are also other signs that could indicate CO poisoning, such as:
It’s important to know the signs of a carbon monoxide leak in your home, because knowing the signs can ensure you aren’t exposed to dangerous levels of CO for an extended period of time.
What are the signs of a carbon monoxide leak?
Any of the following could be a sign of CO in your home:
If you detect any of these signs, please contact your Gas Safe registered engineer immediately to come and inspect your gas appliances and flues.
Remember that not getting your gas appliances regularly checked, or using an engineer that isn’t Gas Safe registered, can put you and your family at risk.
What to do if you suspect CO poisoning
You can also visit the NHS website for detailed information on the symptoms of CO poisoning, what action to take and the treatment that’s usually provided.
The most important thing you can do to minimise the risk of CO is to ensure that your gas appliances are safety checked annually by a Gas Safe registered engineer.
Installing an accredited carbon monoxide leak detector, or audible CO alarm, in your home or business is a good second line of defence, as they emit a sound when CO is detected. However, because an alarm only activates once there is CO present, you should never rely on them as your sole form of prevention.
To ensure their effectiveness, make sure any alarm you buy is marked EN 50291 and has the British Standards Kitemark. We don’t recommend the use of ‘black spot detector’ warning strips because their warning is too easily missed and they don’t emit a sound, so they won’t alert you if you have a CO leak whilst you’re asleep.
Modern CO alarms look like smoke alarms (which do not detect CO) and you can purchase one from around £20 at most major retail outlets, including DIY stores and supermarkets. It’s advisable to fit an alarm in every room with a gas appliance, following the manufacturer’s fitting instructions carefully. Typically, CO alarms have a lifetime of between 5-10 years. Just like your smoke alarm, remember to test your CO alarm regularly.
If you’re unsure which alarm to get, you can ask a Gas Safe registered engineer for advice.
If you have been affected by CO and would like to share your story please get in touch with us by email.