How to detect signs of carbon monoxide poisoning

What is CO poisoning?

Unsafe fossil burning appliances can produce a highly poisonous gas called carbon monoxide (CO). It can cause death as well as serious long-term health problems such as paralysis and brain damage.

CO is produced by the incomplete burning of gas, coal, wood and oil. This happens when an appliance has been incorrectly fitted, badly repaired or poorly maintained. It can also occur if flues, chimneys or vents are blocked.

CO poisoning happens when you breathe in the gas and it replaces oxygen in your bloodstream. Without oxygen, your body tissue and cells die. Even small amounts of the gas can cause CO poisoning.

1. Know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Breathlessness
  • Collapse
  • Loss of consciousness

Being aware of the symptoms could save your life.

CO symptoms are similar to those of flu, food poisoning, viral infections and fatigue. That’s why it’s quite common for people to mistake this very dangerous poisoning for something else.

Other signs that could point to CO poisoning:

  • Your symptoms only occur when you are at home and seem to disappear when you leave home
  • Others in your household (including pets) are experiencing similar symptoms and they appear at a similar time

2. Know the warning signs

Here are some things to keep an eye out for in your home – they could be signs of carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Yellow or orange flames on the hob (rather than a bright blue colour)
  • Dark stains on appliances
  • Your boiler’s pilot light blowing out frequently
  • More condensation than usual on the inside of your windows

3. Know what to do if you suspect a carbon monoxide leak

If you suspect that carbon monoxide is leaking in your house, follow these steps immediately:

  • Switch off all appliances and ventilate the property by opening doors and windows
  • Get everyone safely outside – and stay outside until the emergency services say it’s safe to go back inside
  • Call the gas emergency number on 0800 111 999
  • Seek immediate medical help – sometimes carbon monoxide poisoning is symptomless, so it’s better to be safe than sorry

How to protect yourself:

  • Install a Carbon Monoxide Detector in every room that has a fossil burning appliance
  • Have your appliances regularly maintained
  • Fit battery or mains electric alarms only
  • Test regularly
  • Most CO alarms currently last between 5 and 7 years