Word on Health

Word On CO Poisoning

With winter upon us and temperatures falling health experts are urging us to ensure our heating appliances don't create carbon monoxide (CO) a colourless, odourless, tasteless, poisonous gas produced by incomplete burning of carbon-based fuels, including gas, oil, wood and coal.

Carbon-based fuels are safe to use. It is only when the fuel does not burn properly that excess CO is produced, which is poisonous. When CO enters the body, it prevents the blood from bringing oxygen to cells, tissues, and organs and although you can’t see, taste or smell it, CO can kill quickly without warning.

Sadly, unnecessary deaths each year are caused by gas appliances and flues that have not been properly installed, maintained or that are poorly ventilated. Levels that do not kill can cause serious harm to your health if they are breathed in over a long period. In extreme cases, paralysis and brain damage can be caused as a result of prolonged exposure to CO. Increasing public understanding of the risks of CO poisoning and taking sensible precautions could dramatically reduce this risk - so, thank you for taking the time to read this support information to our on-air report.

How do I know if I am at risk from carbon monoxide? Signs that indicate incomplete combustion is occurring, resulting in the production of CO, include: 

  • yellow or orange rather than blue flames (apart from fuel effect fires or flueless appliances which display this colour flame)
  • soot or yellow/brown staining around or on appliancesp
  • pilot lights that frequently blow out - Increased condensation inside windows

What are the symtoms of carbon monoxide poisoning? Early symptoms can copy many common ailments and may easily be confused with food poisoning, viral infections, flu or simple tiredness.Symptoms to look out for include: 

  • tiredness
  • drowsiness
  • headaches
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • pains in the chest
  • breathlessness
  • stomach pains
  • erratic behavior
  • visual problems

What should I do if I think my appliance is spilling carbon monoxide?  Switch off the appliance and do not reuse until remedial action has been taken. Shut off the gas supply at the meter control valve (if you know where it is). If gas continues to escape call National Grid on the Gas Emergency Freephone Number 0800 111 999.  Open all doors and windows to ventilate the room - do not sleep in it - contact a Gas Safe registered installer to make repairs

What preventative measures can I take against Carbon Monoxide exposure?  Ensure that any work carried out in relation to gas appliances in domestic or commercial premises is to be undertaken by a Gas Safe -registered installer, competent in that area of work.

Gas appliances and/or flues should be installed and serviced regularly for safety - landlords of rental accomodation are legally bound to have a gas safe registered fitter carry out checks on all gas appliances - all landlords must be able to show you an upto date certicificate to show the gas appliances have been chacked.

Always make sure there is enough fresh air in the room containing your gas appliance. If you have a chimney or a flue, ensure it is not blocked up and also ensure that vents are not covered. Get your chimney swept from top to bottom at least once a year by a qualified sweep.

If you or your family experience any of the above symptoms and you believe CO may be involved, you must seek urgent medical advice from either your GP or an accident and emergency department. You should ask for a blood or breath test to confirm the presence of CO. Be aware, CO quickly leaves the blood and tests may be inaccurate if taken more than four hours after exposure has ceased.

All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.