Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: The Top 3 Questions Answered


Carbon monoxide is called the silent killer for a reason – it could be in your home, your office, your hotel on holiday, all without you even realising.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: The Top 3 Questions Answered

This is also why you probably don't know much about it and the fact that it can cause long lasting harm and even be deadly. Gavin Evans, our Partner and Head of Industrial Disease based in Bristol, answers the top 3 questions we receive about Carbon Monoxide:

What is Carbon Monoxide and why would it be in my home?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous gas that is odourless, tasteless and colourless and is dangerous because it can be released by everyday household appliances without us realising. Common appliances CO can come from include:

  •     Gas heaters or stoves
  •     Cookers
  •     Central heating boilers
  •     Blocked flues and chimneys can stop the CO escaping.
Usually the risk of CO poisoning arises when these appliances haven’t been installed correctly, properly maintained or ventilated. The risk of CO poisoning could happen to anyone at any time.

What are the symptoms of Carbon Monoxide poisoning - Will it have lasting effects?

Symptoms of CO poisoning vary, but can include:

  •     Dizziness
  •     Nausea and vomiting
  •     Headaches
  •     Shortness of breath
  •     Tiredness and confusion
CO in your home is difficult to identify because the symptoms are often mistaken as other things, even by medical professionals. Students in particular can be at risk of missing the symptoms of CO poisoning; they may be living in poorly maintained properties and mistake warning flags as 'fresher's flu' or a hangover. Similarly, the confusion and tiredness can be misdiagnosed in older people as old age or dementia.

10-15% of people who suffer severe CO poisoning are left with long term complications involving damage to the heart or the brain according to the NHS Choices website. In some cases, it can be deadly. In 2006, two young children were sadly killed in Corfu due to CO poisoning on a Thomas Cook holiday. Their mother Sharon Wood has now set up the Safer Tourism Foundation to raise awareness of the threat of CO and to avoid unnecessary deaths to CO poisoning whilst people are on holiday.

If I can't see, smell or taste Carbon Monoxide – how do I know if I'm in danger?

There are occasionally some small signs that could indicate the presence of CO in your home; these can include sooty deposits around appliances or flames burning yellow instead of blue. In reality, few of us may actually notice this, or if we did, wouldn't be aware that it indicates a danger.

The only way to be sure that you're safe from CO poisoning is to have a fully tested CO detector. Carbon monoxide detectors work by sounding an alarm if a harmful level of CO is found in the air. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in the US suggests keeping CO alarms outside the sleeping areas and on each floor in your home. It's important to test your alarms regularly to make sure they do still work.

If the alarm happens to go off, or if you suspect that you have been exposed to CO, you should call the gas emergency line on 0800 111 999, get everyone out of the house and seek urgent medical advice.

Get Involved in CO Awareness Week

At Simpson Millar this week, we've been doing our bit to help raise awareness of the dangers of CO. 1 in 10 Europeans have been affected by CO poisoning, yet still many people remain in the dark about what CO is and just how dangerous it can be.

Search for tweets by us on the Twitter account @Simpson_millar and look up the hashtags #COAwarenessWeek and #SilentKiller to learn more and get involved!

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