What's in this article?
Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that has no smell or taste. Breathing it in can make you unwell, and it can kill.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is sometimes referred to as the “silent killer”. Every year in the UK, over 200 people go to hospital with suspected carbon monoxide poisoning, which leads to around 40 deaths.
- Carbon monoxide is odorless, tasteless, and colorless gas is known as the “silent killer.”
- Carbon monoxide is produced by common household appliances. When not properly ventilated, carbon monoxide emitted by these appliances can build up. See the list of appliances that can emit carbon monoxide in this article under Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Causes.
- Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning such as headaches, nausea, and fatigue, are often mistaken for the flu because the deadly gas goes undetected in a home. Prolonged exposure can lead to brain damage and even death.
What causes carbon monoxide poisoning?
Carbon monoxide can come from any source that burns fuel. Common sources are cars, fireplaces, powerboats, woodstoves, kerosene space heaters, charcoal grills, and gas appliances such as water heaters, ovens, and dryers. Usually they cause no problems. Trouble comes when:
- Cars, trucks, or other engines are left running in enclosed spaces, such as garages. Carbon monoxide can build up in a garage and leak back into the house. Even sitting in an idling car in an open garage or swimming behind an idling boat can be dangerous.
- Fuel-burning appliances are not installed or used properly. Dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can build up inside houses and other buildings.
- Fuel-burning heating systems and appliances are used during cold weather, when doors and windows are closed. Chimneys in older buildings become blocked and release fumes into the homes or offices. Newer houses that are well insulated and tightly sealed can trap carbon monoxide inside.
What is carbon monoxide poisoning?
Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs when you breathe in even small amounts of the gas.
When you breathe in carbon monoxide, it gets into your blood stream and prevents your red blood cells from carrying oxygen. Without oxygen, your body tissue and cells die.
Levels that do not kill can cause serious harm to health when breathed in over a long period of time. Long term effects of carbon monoxide poisoning include Paralysis and brain damage. Such long term effects occur because many people are unaware of unsafe gas appliances and subsequent gas leaks.
How do I avoid a carbon monoxide leak in my home?
Your home may show signs of carbon monoxide. Any one of the following could be a sign that there is carbon monoxide in your home.
- The flame on your cooker should be crisp and blue. Lazy yellow or orange flames mean you need to get your cooker checked
- Dark staining around or on appliances
- Pilot lights that frequently blow out
- Increased condensation inside windows
If you have a faulty appliance in your home, it could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.Get your gas appliances checked to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
Signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may include:
- Dull headache
- Nausea or vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Blurred vision
- Loss of consciousness
Carbon monoxide poisoning can be especially dangerous for people who are sleeping or intoxicated. People may have irreversible brain damage or even be killed before anyone realizes there’s a problem.
Treating carbon monoxide poisoning
You will need oxygen therapy treatment in hospital if you have been exposed to a high level of carbon monoxide, or have symptoms that suggest exposure.
Oxygen therapy involves breathing in 100% oxygen through a tight-fitting mask (normal air contains about 21% oxygen). Breathing in concentrated oxygen enables your body to quickly replace carboxyhaemoglobin.