Carbon Monoxide poisoning and how to help prevent it

 August 23, 2020

Many people are still suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning every year. Around 50,000 people in the US visit the hospital due to the effects, and at least 430 die. In the UK 4,000 people are hospitalised and 50 die.  Carbon monoxide (CO) is tasteless, odourless, and colourless so it is impossible for humans to detect.

What is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Carbon monoxide poisoning is due to combustion fumes being inhaled. Our red blood cells absorb CO quicker than they absorb oxygen, so If there is a high concentration of carbon monoxide in the air, the body may replace oxygen in blood with it. This then blocks oxygen from getting to tissues and cells, causing damage to the body which can ultimately result in death.

Can you prevent it?

Any appliance that uses fuel produces carbon monoxide. This means that nearly every household, and many businesses across the world are producing CO.  If an appliance breaks down, or is poorly ventilated, then the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is increased. However, there are measures you can take to reduce the risks to you, your families, employees, and/or pets:



  • There are several different types of detector, but they are all triggered by the presence of CO. A loud alarm sounds, alerting everyone of the danger.


  • Place detectors on every floor of your building whether it is at home or at work. They do rely on being installed in a good location to be effective. As CO is lighter than the air it will distribute evenly, so for the best results,


  • Detectors should be positioned at least 5 feet above floor level and if possible 2-3 feet below ceiling height.


  • To avoid false or inaccurate readings detectors should not be placed near windows or vents, extractor fans or fan heaters.


  • Make sure that the alarm can be heard by everyone in the building.


  • If there are bedrooms or sleeping quarters, detectors should be placed nearby.


  • If there are garages or outbuilding attached to your building, detectors need to be placed nearby. Never leave any motorised equipment or vehicles running inside outbuildings with the doors shut. Always ventilate the area before starting the engine.


  • Use fuel burning appliances only as recommended. Do not modify them in any way. Use outdoor equipment outdoors only – do not heat your home with a gas burner or camping stove for example.


  • Maintain and service fuel burning appliances by hiring professional engineers. Do not attempt to install or repair appliances yourself.


  • Always ventilate your surroundings before using any fuel burning appliances, and if you have a fireplace, make sure the chimney or flue is swept regularly.

What are the symptoms of exposure to carbon monoxide?

When CO is allowed to accumulate to dangerous levels, it can cause the following symptoms:

  • Headaches
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Stomach pains
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Death

Sadly, these symptoms are very similar to flu, which means CO poisoning may be misdiagnosed, although Flu brings a temperature or fever where CO poisoning does not.  Sufferers may also feel much better when they are away from the CO source.

 Who is most at risk?

Exposure to CO at any level can be dangerous to any person or animal. But there are certain demographics which are even more susceptible to the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning.

  • People with pre existing or undiagnosed health problems such as respiratory diseases and heart disease. They are more likely to suffer with illness linked to CO poisoning against a healthy person.
  • Young children. They breath more rapidly than adults so are more at risk. Unborn babies are also at risk as foetal blood cells absorb CO more easily than adult cells.
  • Older adults are more likely to develop brain damage through exposure than younger adults.

If you are worried about Carbon Monoxide poisoning, you can get help and advice from your local Fire Safety company.

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