What is Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning?

Gas appliances which are unsafe or poorly maintained can produce the highly poisonous gas, carbon monoxide (CO). Carbon Monoxide can cause serious long term health problems such as brain damage and in extreme cases, death. CO is produced when gas and Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) aren’t burnt completely. This can happen when a gas appliance has been either incorrectly fitted, poorly maintained or badly repaired or if flues, chimneys and or vents are blocked. The burning of solid fuels such as coal, wood, petrol and oil can also produce carbon monoxide. CO poisoning occurs when the oxygen in your bloodstream is replaced when you breathe in the gas. Your body tissue and cells soon die when starved of oxygen. Even small amounts of the gas can cause CO poisoning, the long term effects of this can include paralysis and brain damage.

There are six main symptoms to look out for:

  • Headaches

  • Dizziness

  • Nausea

  • Breathlessness

  • Collapse

  • Loss of consciousness

Being aware of the symptoms could save your life

CO symptoms can be very similar to those of flu, food poisoning, viral infections and fatigue. That’s why it’s common for people to mistake this very dangerous poisoning for something less severe.

Other signs that could indicate CO poisoning are:

  • Your symptoms only occur when you are at home and seem to disappear when you leave home.

  • Others in your household (including pets) are experiencing similar symptoms and they appear at a similar time.

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What to do if you suspect CO poisoning

  • Get fresh air immediately. Ventilate your house by opening doors and windows and turn off your gas appliances.

  • See your doctor immediately or go to hospital – let them know that you suspect CO poisoning. They can do a blood or breath test to check. In emergency circumstances call for an ambulance.

  • If you think there is an immediate danger, call the Gas Emergency Helpline on 0800 111 999.

  • Ask a Gas Safe registered engineer to inspect your gas appliances and flues to see if there is a dangerous problem.

The warning signs of a CO leak

Any of the following signs could indicate a CO leak in your home:

  • Flames of a lazy yellow or orange colour on your gas hob, rather than being a crisp blue;

  • Dark staining on/around appliances;

  • Pilot light that frequently blows out;

  • Increased condensation on windows.

Having your gas appliances serviced regularly can help to avoid issues with CO poisoning. Always use a Gas Safe Registered engineer to carry out any work on your gas appliances

The benefits of having a CO alarm

While there is no substitute for having your appliances serviced and checked regularly by a Gas Safe Registered Engineer, fitting an audible CO alarm in your property is a good second line of defence. Modern CO alarms are similar in design to smoke alarms and can be purchased from around £15 at many major retail outlets including DIY stores and supermarkets. You may wish to invest in a connected system like the Nest Protect which is a smoke and CO alarm. Ask us about installing your Nest Protect. Before purchasing any CO or smoke alarm, make sure it is marked to EN 50291 and has the British Standards Kitemark or another European approval organisation’s mark on it. Our advice is to fit an alarm in every room that has a gas appliance. When installing and siting the alarm please refer to the manufacturer’s instructions. Most audible CO alarms have a battery life of up to 5 years.

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