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Carbon monoxide is a silent killer. Check out the dangers and learn how to stay safe

According to the Department of Health and Social Care, carbon monoxide poisoning at home accounts for an average of 50 recorded deaths annually and up to 4,000 medical visits, Small changes made to your home and your attitude can help prevent anyone you care about being affected by this dangerous illness.

When fuels are not burned effectively or fully, carbon monoxide is released. There are many situations where this can occur in your home. Household fires, central heating systems, barbecues, gas stoves and car exhaust fumes are just a few examples.

Carbon monoxide infographic

Many people believe that CO poisoning is just caused by gas appliances and BBQs, but there are some surprising sources to the deadly gas. We've outlined some key dangers and signs that you're at risk of CO poisoning in this infographic. Feel free to share.

In 2015, new regulations came in requiring landlords to install both smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms in rented residential accommodation. Landlords should be aware that failure to comply with this requirement can lead to a fine of up to £5,000.

If you have been inflicted with CO poisoning, you'll experience a series of symptoms that are akin to flu, food poisoning or a bad cold. However, the aches, pains, and stomach cramps are indicative of something serious happening in your body.

When you breathe in oxygen, it pairs with haemoglobin, which carries the oxygen around your body to your organs and muscles. However, haemoglobin is far more compatible with CO particles and their subsequent coupling is extremely dangerous. The resulting carboxyhaemoglobin prevents oxygen from being carried in your body's bloodstream, which causes tissue and cells to decay.

Although most people realise they have carbon monoxide poisoning after displaying some of the many symptoms (which you can see on our infographic above) there are some other ways to spot the signs of a CO laden atmosphere:

  • Black, sooty marks around fireplaces or heating systems
  • Lots of smoke building up in a poorly ventilated area
  • Yellow flames, rather than blue flames, on a gas cooker
  • Yellow or inconsistent  flames in a boiler pilot light
  • An increase in condensation on the windows

Another indication that you may be suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning is if you find that your symptoms only appear when you are at home and improve or disappear when you go out.

The easiest and most effective way to work out if you have carbon monoxide poisoning is to buy and install a carbon monoxide detector, which will alarm you if levels are dangerously raised.

Fortunately, it's incredibly easy to minimise the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning. Installing a carbon monoxide alarm is a cheap and easy way to ensure you're notified of any changes to your environment regarding CO emissions. There are several things to consider:

  • Make sure that the  alarm is from a reputable brand and bought from a trusted source.
  • Decide what type of alarm you want. Some of them notify you of CO dangers by changing colour, while a little more money can buy you a device with a sound alarm. Prices range from approximately £5 to about £50, depending on needs and sophistication.
  • Once you've bought your alarm, check it has the British Standard EN 50291 mark (otherwise known as the BSEN 50291) or the CE mark.
  • Take care to install your alarm somewhere where it can detect levels accurately. The best thing is to keep it at the same level as your head, so it monitors at breathing-height. Therefore, fixing it to the ceiling might not be the best course of action.
  • Carry out monthly tests and regular battery changes to guarantee your alarm is in good working order.

It's estimated that 20 million homes in the UK still don't have a carbon monoxide alarm installed. Such an easy process and such a low price-point negates any excuses. Buy and install an alarm today, and safeguard your family from the lethal risks of CO poisoning.

For more information on preventing this danger and raising awareness, visit CO Victim.

Where does CO come from?

Carbon monoxide is produced when fuels burn without sufficient air or ventilation.  It can also be produced by appliances which are faulty or have been poorly fitted.

If you have an oil, gas or wood-burning appliance, you need to have a carbon monoxide detector fitted.

How much CO is enough to harm someone?

CO is highly dangerous. Even low exposure can be fatal.  Less than 2% is enough to kill someone in just 1-3 minutes.

What does CO do to the body?

Carbon monoxide starves the body of oxygen, severely affecting the nervous and respiratory system. Blood cells and vital organs such as the heart and lungs are deprived of oxygen which can cause cardiovascular problems or lung disease.

What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

Symptoms of CO poisoning can include:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Breathlessness
  • Dizziness
  • Flu-like symptoms

If you or anyone else are experiencing these symptoms, seek medical advice immediately.

How many people die from CO every year? Every year 50 people die from CO poisoning, and a further 4,000 are admitted to A&E after exposure.

What should I do if I think I have a gas leak?

If you think there may be a gas leak in your property:

  • Open all the doors and windows to get fresh air immediately
  • Turn off any gas appliances
  • Leave the house
  • Call the Gas Emergency Helpline on 0800 111 999
  • Seek medical attention immediately and inform them that you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning

How often should I check my appliances?

Your appliances should be checked every year or when you move into a new property.  These must be checked by a Gas Safe registered engineer.

What is the Gas Safe Register?

The Gas Safe Register is the official body of qualified gas engineers in the UK, which ensures that the public is protected from unsafe gas work.  You can ensure that your gas engineer is on the Gas Safe Register by checking their identity card.

What are the warning signs?

Any of the following could show signs of carbon monoxide:

  • Flames on a cooker should be crisp and blue.  If they are yellow, hazy and flickering then you need to get your cooker checked
  • Dark staining on or around appliances
  • Increased condensation around windows
  • Pilot lights that frequently blow out

How can I prevent CO poisoning?

There are steps you can take to keep your house safe and prevent CO poisoning:

  • Install a carbon monoxide detector in your home, Gas Safe strongly recommends installing an audible one.
  • Have any gas, oil or coal-burning appliances annually serviced by a Gas Safe registered engineer.
  • Make sure your appliances are vented properly. Vents should go up slightly as they go outdoors
  • Never try to mend a broken vent with tape. Always get help from a registered engineer.
  • Never use an oven to heat your home, or burn charcoal indoors. Both can cause a build-up of CO in your home.