Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that has no smell or taste. Breathing it in can make you unwell, and it can kill if you’re exposed to high levels.
Every year in the UK, more than 200 people go to hospital with suspected carbon monoxide poisoning, which leads to around 50 deaths.
After carbon monoxide is breathed in, it enters your bloodstream. When this happens, the blood is no longer able to carry oxygen, and this lack of oxygen causes the body’s cells and tissue to fail and die.
Be aware of the signs
It’s very important to be aware of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and to look out for warning signs.
You should suspect carbon monoxide poisoning if:
- other people in your house, flat or workplace fall ill with similar symptoms
- your symptoms disappear when you go away – for example, on holiday – and return when you come back
- your symptoms tend to be seasonal – for example, if you get headaches more often during the winter when the central heating is used more frequently
- your pets also become ill
Other possible clues of a carbon monoxide leak include:
- black, sooty marks on the front covers of gas fires
- sooty or yellow/brown stains on or around boilers, stoves or fires
- smoke building up in rooms due to a faulty flue
- yellow instead of blue flames coming from gas appliances
- pilot lights frequently blowing out
Carbon monoxide is a danger to everyone, but certain groups are more vulnerable than others. These include:
- babies and young children
- pregnant women
- people with chronic heart disease
- people with respiratory problems
Pets are often the first to show signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. The smaller an animal or a person is, the faster they’ll be affected.
What to do if you suspect a carbon monoxide leak
If your carbon monoxide alarm sounds or you suspect a leak:
- stop using all appliances, switch them off, and open doors and windows to ventilate the property
- evacuate the property immediately – stay calm and avoid raising your heart rate
- don’t go back into the property – wait for advice from the emergency services
- seek immediate medical help – you may not realise you’ve been affected by the carbon monoxide, and going outside into fresh air won’t treat any exposure by itself.