Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that can not be detected by sight, smell or taste. If exposed to high levels, it can eventually kill. In England and Wales alone, there are around 25 deaths by accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.
Once breathed in, it mixes with haemoglobin which is the part of red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body. This can lead to the cells and tissue to fail and die.
Causes of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon monoxide is produced when fuels such as gas, oil, coal and wood don’t burn fully. Burning charcoal, running cars and the smoke from cigarettes also produce carbon monoxide gas.
Many household appliances use gas, oil, coal and wood as fuel sources including:
- Gas fires
- Central heating systems
- Water heaters
- Open fires
Other possible causes of carbon monoxide poisoning include:
- blocked flues and chimneys – this can stop carbon monoxide escaping, allowing it to reach dangerous levels
- burning fuel in an enclosed or unventilated space – for example, running a car engine, petrol-powered generator or barbecue inside a garage, or a faulty boiler in an enclosed kitchen
- faulty or blocked car exhausts – a leak or blockage in the exhaust pipe, such as after heavy snowfall, could lead to a build-up of carbon monoxide
- paint fumes – some cleaning fluids and paint removers contain methylene chloride (dichloromethane), which can cause carbon monoxide poisoning if breathed in
- smoking shisha pipes indoors – shisha pipes burn charcoal and tobacco, which can lead to a build-up of carbon monoxide in enclosed or unventilated rooms
Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are not always immediately obvious but there are signs to look for.
- Tension-type headache. Feels like a constant ache that affects both sides of the head. You may also feel the neck muscles tighten and a feeling of pressure behind the eyes.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Tiredness and confusion
- Pains in the stomach
- Shortness of breath/difficulty breathing.
If the above symptoms only seem to occur when you are in certain places, but disappear when you leave, you should have a professional out to check your appliances for leaking gas.
More Severe Symptoms
- impaired mental state and personality changes (intoxication)
- ataxia – loss of physical co-ordination.
- breathlessness and tachycardia – (a heart rate of more than 100 beats per minute)
- chest pain
- loss of consciousness
Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
The first and what should be the most obvious step to take is to purchase and install carbon monoxide alarms within your home. You should have if possible one on each floor of the home and take a little time to test them at least once a month to ensure that they are working correctly. Once a year you should replace the batteries in each one even if you are sure they still have plenty of juice left.
If you use a generator, do so safely. Never run it within your home as simply opening the windows and doors will not be enough to stop a build up of carbon monoxide.
If you keep your car in the garage, do not ever leave the engine running, especially when the garage door is closed.
- Never use ovens or gas stoves to heat your home.
- Only use the correct size pots on your gas stove.
- Never block the air vents around your home. They are there for a reason.
- Any time that you use gas-powered equipment do so in well ventilated areas only. Use outside whenever possible.
- Never use a BBQ indoors.
- Install an extractor fan in the kitchen.
If you suspect a leak, switch off all appliances and open all doors and windows to ventilate the property. Get yourself and your family outside calmly so as not to raise your heartbeat.
call the gas emergency number on 0800 111 999 to report the incident, or the Gas Safety Advice Line on 0800 300 363 and await further instructions from them.
How to Test Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
A carbon monoxide detector will alert a homeowner of the presence of high levels of carbon monoxide. In order for them to do this, it is important that you periodically test the detectors to make sure that they are working correctly.
While these detectors are not dangerous, having one that’s hardwired into the house means working with electricity.
Test the detector safely by:
- Pressing the test button
- Keeping hands away from the detector’s interior
- Not taking the detector apart
- Changing the batteries when needed
- Replacing the detector if it’s defective
- Getting a professional to handle any electrical problems
While you may think that you have better things to be spending your time on than testing your carbon monoxide detectors, it is essential for the safety of all those within the home. Testing them regularly will allow you to better notice when they are not working as they should.