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Preventing carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide gas can't be seen, smelled or tasted, but can kill within minutes.

The risk of carbon monoxide, or CO, comes from faulty gas and fuel-burning fires and appliances in the home and other accommodation, such as on holiday abroad, and from vehicle exhaust fumes in poorly-ventilated spaces.

The Department of Health says there are around 40 deaths and 4,000 hospital admissions in the UK each year from carbon monoxide poisoning.

In Scotland, it is now compulsory to install a carbon monoxide alarm whenever a new fuel-burning appliance is fitted.

It is a common for people to expect smoke alarms to detect carbon monoxide, but they don't.

Only specific carbon monoxide alarms give protection against the gas. They take just a few minutes to fit and can cost as little as £15 from DIY stores, supermarkets, shops or from energy companies.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning

The initial symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to the flu, but without fever. They include:

If you have any of these symptoms, especially if you feel better when you go outside your home, but the symptoms reappear once you're back inside - you may have carbon monoxide poisoning.

If carbon monoxide poisoning is known or suspected:

  • Immediately leave the building or vehicle where carbon monoxide may be present and get outside into the fresh air.
  • Keep still. This will conserve oxygen in the blood, which is already at a low level because carbon monoxide has partially replaced it.
  • It is important that you get treated right away. Seek urgent medical attention. If necessary, go to your nearest Accident and Emergency department or call 999 for an ambulance. You will need to be tested for carbon monoxide and will probably be given oxygen treatment through a mask.

Tips for preventing carbon monoxide poisoning

Make sure you fit audible carbon monoxide alarms that meet European safety standards and are marked EN50291, BSEN 50291 or EN50291 with the CE symbol.

Alarms should also carry a Kitemark or Loss Prevention Certification Board (LPCB) logo to confirm independent testing and certification.

Having a carbon monoxide alarm should be your second line of defence. It is not an alternative to ensuring your appliances are fitted and regularly serviced by a Gas Safe registered engineer.

Carbon monoxide can also be produced from burning Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), oil, coal, wood and petrol. As well as checking appliances, flues, chimneys or vents need to be properly checked for any blockages.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith on January 13, 2014

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