Carbon Monoxide - The Danger of Poisoning and How to Prevent It

Often referred to as the “Silent Killer”, carbon monoxide (CO) is a very dangerous and potentially lethal gas. Each year, about 200 people are hospitalised in the UK due to CO poisoning, while approximately 40 people die due to the exposure to this toxic gas. The good news is that with a few simple measures, the risk of CO poisoning can be very effectively prevented.

What Causes CO Poisoning?

CO poisoning is caused by accidental inhalation of the dangerous gas which is odourless, tasteless and colourless. As a result, its victims are usually unaware that they are inhaling it until it’s too late. To make things worse, the danger of CO poisoning is the greatest where we all tend to feel most secure - our homes. It is most often leaked by improperly maintained/installed or malfunctioned appliances that are powered by wood, gas, oil or charcoal such as cookers, water heaters, boilers, open fires and gas fires. But it can also build up in the air due to a blocked flue or chimney.

Symptoms of CO Poisoning

What makes CO poisoning so dangerous is the absence of signs and symptoms until it gets severe. As mentioned earlier, it doesn’t have any taste, colour or smell and as a result, its victims usually aren’t aware they are in great danger. To make things worse, it causes very non-specific symptoms which may include headache, dizziness, weakness, confusion, nausea, vomiting and unconsciousness. Prolonged exposure to CO can lead to permanent brain damage or death.

Treatment of CO Poisoning

If experiencing symptoms of CO poisoning or if you suspect that you were exposed to CO, go outside immediately to get fresh air and call your local emergency department. Mild CO poisoning usually doesn’t require treatment, while moderate to severe cases are treated with oxygen therapy.

Prevention of CO Poisoning

The easiest and most effective way to prevent CO poisoning is to install a carbon monoxide detector which will sound alarm in case CO levels in the air reach dangerously high levels. It is of utmost importance, however, to check the batteries on the regular basis. And in case the detector goes off, leave your home immediately and call emergency.

Though installing a CO detector/alarm is the best protection against CO poisoning, be sure to use appliances as recommended and have them regularly serviced. Also, keep your chimneys and flues clean. You are also highly recommended to always open garage before starting your vehicle and never let it running inside garage.