Carbon monoxide (CO) is the silent killer – you can’t see it, taste it or smell it.
CO poisoning occurs when any fuel-burning appliance has not been properly installed or maintained, or when there is poor ventilation. Sources can include boilers, gas fires, central heating systems, water heaters, cookers and open fires.
The build-up of carbon monoxide can also be as a result of any of the following:
- Indoor use of a barbecue or outdoor heater.
- Using cooking appliances as heaters.
- Burning fuel in an enclosed or unventilated space where there are no air vents, windows or doors left open or ajar.
- Faulty/damaged heating or cooking appliances.
- Badly ventilated rooms – sealed windows or no air bricks.
- Blocked chimneys or flues – birds nests, fallen bricks, growing vegetation, poor DIY.
- Running engines (such as cars or ride-on lawnmowers) in enclosed garages.
We recommend that all homes have carbon monoxide detectors fitted as well as working smoke alarms. CO detectors can be bought in most supermarkets and DIY stores – they’re not expensive and they save lives.
The danger signs
- Yellow or orange, rather than blue, flames (except fuel effect fires or flueless appliances which display this colour for effect).
- Soot or yellow/brown staining around appliances or fireplaces.
- Pilot lights that frequently blow out.
- Increased condensation inside windows.
The symptoms of CO poisoning
The early symptoms of CO poisoning can be easily confused with many common ailments and can develop quickly or over several days or months. Look out for:
- A headache
- Feeling sick and dizzy
- Feeling tired and confused
- Being sick and/or having stomach pain
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
What to do if you think you are suffering the effects of CO
- Open the doors and windows to ventilate the affected room.
- Switch off all gas appliances and don’t use them again until they have been checked/fixed by a registered gas engineer.
- Leave the property immediately and get out into the open air.
- If appropriate, seek urgent medical advice from your GP or your nearest A&E department.
The NHS Choices website has guidance on identifying the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.
To check whether a gas engineer is registered as Gas Safe, visit www.gassaferegister.co.uk