Why should people be alarmed?
Carbon monoxide is a highly poisonous gas that has no colour, taste or smell, meaning it can easily be inhaled without somebody realising. When carbon monoxide is breathed in, it starves the body of oxygen. High levels can kill within minutes, but it can also cause a range of non-fatal health problems, ranging from headaches and drowsiness through to lasting brain and nervous system damage.
Despite the dangers, studies have shown that fewer than one in ten homes have a carbon monoxide alarm.* An audible carbon monoxide alarm is the only effective way for people to protect themselves and their families. Recent regulatory changes in Northern Ireland and Scotland will see more alarms installed in homes. However, not everyone will be covered, so we urge people, wherever they are based, to purchase and install an alarm today.
Young children and elderly people are particularly at risk from carbon monoxide poisoning because their bodies are less able to withstand the effects. Women should also be aware that if they don’t have an alarm and are pregnant they are putting their unborn child at risk.
How many people are affected?
According to the Department of Health, more than 50 people in England and Wales die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning, and thousands more are treated in hospital. It is likely many more victims go unrecognised because the early symptoms can easily be mistaken for common illnesses such as flu or food poisoning.
What are the causes of carbon monoxide poisoning?
Carbon monoxide is produced when fuels such as gas, oil, charcoal, coal and wood do not burn fully. The most common cause of this is when a household fuel-burning appliance, such as a boiler or cooker, is installed incorrectly or is poorly maintained.
Carbon monoxide can also build up in homes when flues, chimneys or vents are blocked, and lit barbeques emit carbon monoxide, and continue to do so once they’re extinguished.
Four steps to protect yourself
The Carbon Monoxide – Be Alarmed! campaign recommends four simple steps to keep your household safe:
1. Fit an audible carbon monoxide alarm in your home – if you don’t have one, go and get one today. You can get them from most energy suppliers, DIY stores and supermarkets and many other high street shops. Make sure you buy an audible alarm – it should meet the European standard, EN50291. The alarm will sound if too much carbon monoxide is in the air.
2. Have fuel-burning appliances serviced annually by a registered professional.
3. Don’t block ventilation points and get chimneys swept at least once a year.
4. Learn about the danger signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning at www.co-bealarmed.co.uk
5. There have been a number of cases recently of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by barbeques in enclosed spaces, such as in tents. When camping, be sure not to bring your barbeque inside with you, lit or extinguished, as the build-up of carbon monoxide emitted in a small space can be fatal.
What are the symptoms?
Carbon monoxide can be fatal and can lead to a range of serious health problems including lasting brain and nervous system damage.
The symptoms of mild poisoning are often similar to common illnesses such as flu or food-poisoning, meaning people often don’t realise they are suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning until the symptoms get worse.
The most common symptoms of mild poisoning are: nausea, dizziness, tiredness, headaches and abdominal pain. Some people may also vomit.
The longer someone breathes in carbon monoxide, the worse the symptoms will get. They may lose their balance, vision and memory. There is also a high chance with high or prolonged exposure that they will fall unconscious or, at worst, die. This can happen within two hours if there is a lot of carbon monoxide in the air.
Other warning signs that suggest carbon monoxide poisoning include:
· Other people in your house, flat or workplace experiencing similar symptoms
· Symptoms disappearing when you leave your home and returning when you come back
What to do in an emergency
If your alarm goes off or you spot other signs of carbon monoxide:
· Open doors or windows for ventilation and leave your home immediately
· Stop using all your cooking and heating appliances that use fuels such as gas, oil wood, charcoal or coal. Seek immediate advice from your GP if you think you have carbon monoxide poisoning or, if it is urgent, call 999 for an ambulance
· Call the relevant emergency advice line: Gas Emergency Service (24 hours) 0800 111 999; Solid fuels (HETAS) 0845 634 5626; Oil (OFTEC) 0845 658 5080
· Have all appliances serviced and checked. Do not use them until you are told it’s safe to do so
For information and advice on how to stay safe visit: www.co-bealarmed.co.uk
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