Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas with neither a taste nor smell. Because of this, it can be challenging to recognise when you may be suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. The symptoms of CO poisoning are also easily mistaken as being caused by something else.
The longer you are exposed to carbon monoxide, the more severe the symptoms are. Fatal if inhaled in large amounts, CO poisoning kills around 25 people each year in England and Wales.
CO alarms can detect and alert you to dangerous amounts of carbon monoxide, but even so, it’s essential to recognise the signs and symptoms of poisoning.
What is Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous gas produced by burning gasoline, wood, propane, charcoal or other fuel types. Colourless, odourless and tasteless, CO can lead to severe illness or even be fatal if inhaled.
Where do you find CO?
Typically, CO is found in the fumes produced by burning fuel such as gas, wood, oil or coal. Numerous sources produce it, with many of these being in a domestic environment, including:
- Furnaces and boilers
- Fireplaces (gas and wood burning)
- Gas stoves and ovens
What are the symptoms of Carbon Monoxide poisoning?
Due to CO being odourless and colourless, it’s not always easy to identify it as the cause of your symptoms – of which there may be several. They are often mistaken for flu, including headaches, dizziness and an upset stomach.
1. Dull Headache
The most common early warning sign of CO poisoning will present as a dull headache. It’s easy to ignore headaches, so pay attention if they strike in a particular place, e.g. your home, work, etc.
Dizziness is common in the early stages of carbon monoxide poisoning. However, it can also lead to loss of consciousness and fainting.
3. Nausea or Vomiting
Like headaches and dizziness, vomiting is also an early sign of CO poisoning. It can be noticeable as CO poisoning due to the lack of fever.
A build-up of carbon monoxide can impact a person’s ability to think straight, leading to confusion, memory problems and impaired judgement.
5. Shortness of Breath
CO poisoning can cause shortness of breath or rapid breathing as it becomes more severe. There may also be a feeling of tightening or pain in the chest area.
6. Blurred Vision
Common in severe cases of carbon monoxide poisoning, blurred vision occurs as a lack of oxygen affects the brain.
A seizure, defined as “a sudden, uncontrolled electrical disturbance in the brain”, occurs in near-fatal situations. You should seek medical help immediately.
What to do if you suspect a Carbon Monoxide leak?
- Stop using gas appliances.
- Open windows and doors to let in the fresh air and ventilate the area.
- Leave the property.
- Get medical assistance.
- Report the suspected leak to a professional.
Signs of CO Poisoning in your home
As carbon monoxide is difficult to identify, it’s essential to know the signs to look out for that could result from a leak.
- Yellow or orange flames in your gas appliance rather than the usual blue flame.
- Staining on or around your gas appliance
- An increase in condensation on windows
- Pilot lights frequently blow out
- Solid fuel fires burn slower than usual.
How can I reduce the risk of Carbon Monoxide poisoning?
You can take various steps to reduce the risk of CO poisoning in your home.
- Install a CO detector – Place it in the rooms with gas appliances, regularly test and check your detector is still working and replace it every five years.
- Ensure your heating system works correctly and gas appliances are installed and serviced by a qualified professional.
- Ensure there is sufficient ventilation for gas appliances.
- Only burn fuels indoors if a device is specifically designed for indoor use.
- Never use a gas range, dryer, or oven to heat a room.