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How to Avoid Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide is a silent killer. It is colourless, odourless and tasteless, which means it cannot be detected in the air by humans. Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause serious long-term health problems and even death.

So where is the danger – and how can you avoid it?

Products That May Omit Carbon Monoxide

There are many everyday products that can emit carbon monoxide when in use. These include electrical generators, equipment that is diesel or petrol powered, heaters that use gas or kerosene, and fireplaces and barbeques that use wood, charcoal or gas. These appliances should only be used in areas with sufficient ventilation, and they should be regularly checked and serviced to ensure they are safe.

Blocked chimneys pose a real danger too – make sure that they are in good working order before you use them.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide

We cannot detect carbon monoxide in the air, as it has no smell or colour. What’s more, the symptoms are not always clear and can be easily confused with other ailments. If there is any suspicion of poisoning, remove yourself from the area of contamination and seek immediate medical attention.

Carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms can include:

  • headaches
  • confusion
  • vomiting
  • nausea
  • memory loss
  • tiredness
  • dizziness
  • irritability
  • disorientation
  • convulsions
  • abnormal reflexes
  • difficulty in breathing
  • chest pain
  • difficulty in coordinating.

What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

One of the difficulties with diagnosing carbon monoxide poisoning is that many of its symptoms are similar to those of other conditions. Often the onset of symptoms is gradual, occurring without the individual or doctor being fully aware of what is happening. Coupled with this is the fact that the severity of the poisoning depends on:
  • how much carbon monoxide is actually present in the environment.
  • the duration you are exposed to carbon monoxide.
  • the age of the individual concerned – elderly, children and the foetus are all at greater risk.
  • the general state of health.
  • the extent of physical activity – effects are increased with higher activity levels.

The commonest symptoms (with frequency of occurrence in brackets) include:

  • headache (90 per cent)
  • nausea and vomiting (50 per cent)
  • vertigo (50 per cent)
  • altering states of consciousness (30 per cent)
  • weakness (20 per cent).

The likely symptoms in adults, children and infants are shown below:

Symptoms Adult Child Infant
General Dizziness, fatigue, weakness Not feeling well
Neurological Headache, drowsiness, disorientation, fits Headache, drowsiness, fits, uncoordinated movement
Stomach/ intestine Nausea, vomiting, stomach pains Vomiting, stomach pains, anorexia, diarrhoea Loss of appetite
Heart Chest pain, wheeziness, palpitations, hyperventilation Hyperventilation

Health Effects of Carbon Monoxide

When carbon monoxide poisoning is severe, it can lead to serious long-term health problems, like heart disease, brain damage, coma – or even death. Cerebral edema is also a common result of severe carbon monoxide poisoning. It causes swelling of the brain and is life-threatening.

Those at high risk of poisoning include infants, children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people who have previously had cardiac or lung disease.

What You Can Do to Protect Your Family

Carbon monoxide detector photoMake sure you get your heaters serviced regularly – at least every two years, and at the start of winter is ideal. As part of the service, ensure that your technician tests for carbon monoxide levels within the home too.

A simple, affordable and effective solution is to install a carbon monoxide alarm. It’s an essential protection measure and can warn you if any fumes from your heaters or appliances are being omitted.

Installing a carbon monoxide alarm in your home gives you peace of mind, and allows you to sleep easy knowing that you and your family are safe.