Stay safe this winter – looking for the signs of CO poisoning

In this news article we explain CO poisoning and looking for the signs of CO poisoning.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous gas, with no smell or taste, that is both invisible and deadly. Breathing it in can make you unwell and it is estimated that around 4,000 people a year attend A&E departments in England alone because of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Tragically it also accounts for between 30 and 40 deaths in England and Wales every year. The majority occur over the winter months as a result of faulty fossil fuel and wood burning appliances leaking the lethal gas.

So what can we do to protect ourselves and recognise the danger signs? Looking for the signs of CO poisoning.

CHECK all fossil fuel and wood burning appliances regularly via an appropriately registered engineer. Incorrectly installed, poorly maintained or poorly ventilated household appliances such as cookers, heaters and central heating boilers are the most common sources of carbon monoxide.

ALARM installed and fit for purpose? 16% don’t work straight out of the box, sensors have a limited life and the alarm test button only tests the battery not the efficacy of the alarm itself, so be sure to use an alarm test kit to make sure all is in working order.

RISK of CO poisoning can occur at any time, in any home or enclosed space but risks are greater when people turn on their heating in the winter and generally spend more time indoors. Beware of potential exposure from portable devices in caravans, boats and mobile homes too.

BLOCKED flues and chimneys can stop carbon monoxide escaping, potentially allowing it to reach dangerous levels. Keep airways clear and never burn fuel such as in a car engine, petrol generator or barbecue in an enclosed or unventilated space.

OTHER conditions particularly in the winter, such as colds, flu and food poisoning can make it difficult to identify CO poisoning as the symptoms are so similar. Unlike flu however, it does not cause a high temperature.

NAUSEA, headache, dizziness, tiredness, confusion, stomach pain, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing are all symptoms of exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide. Sometimes falling asleep in front of the fire can be an indication of higher than normal levels of CO.

MEMORY, vision and balance can all be affected. The longer you are exposed to low levels the worse the symptoms will be. If there is a lot of carbon monoxide in the air you may lose consciousness. This can happen within two hours.

OVER time, low level exposure can lead to neurological problems such as difficulty thinking or concentrating and frequent emotional changes such as becoming irritable, depressed or impulsive.

NEVER underestimate the devastating effects of CO poisoning. If you have breathed in high levels you will most likely experience severe symptoms such as vertigo, loss of co-ordination, impaired mental state, breathlessness, a raised heart rate, chest pain, seizures and loss of consciousness. In the case of very high levels, death can occur within minutes.

OLDER people along with babies and young children, pregnant women and people with heart or breathing difficulties may be affected by CO poisoning more quickly than others, so be vigilant and help others.

EXTRA vigilance around pets can help you pick up signs of a problem as they are highly vulnerable to the effects of the gas and can be the first to become unwell.

IF you suspect a leak or your alarm sounds, stop using all appliances and evacuate the property immediately. Seek medical help even if you think you feel OK as you may not realise you are affected.

DONT ignore the risks. Be sure to have working and effectively tested CO alarms in the house or places of work. Landlords are now legally required to have working and fully tested CO and smoke alarms in all residential properties.

EMERGENCY numbers to keep somewhere safe are 0800 111 999 to report the incident and the HSE Gas Safety Advice Line on 0800 300 363.

By being aware and prepared with effective and regularly tested alarms can mean the difference between life and death. Only when the checks and tests have been completed should one really sit back and relax by the fire this winter.


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