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Carbon monoxide: The dangers

Carbon monoxide gas (CO) is best known as the “silent killer” due to its toxic, tasteless and scent-free nature. It’s important that your central heating system is installed and maintained by a Gas Safe engineer to avoid gas leaks and exposure to carbon monoxide. In the UK alone, there are around 20 deaths per year due to leaks and exposure to this poisonous gas, which is usually caused by unsafe gas appliances or poor installation. In this article, we will show you everything there is to know about how to protect yourself, the symptoms, and the causes of a carbon monoxide leak.

What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

Have you ever had a hangover you couldn’t shake off? Well, that’s quite like carbon monoxide poisoning. There are five common symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of breath
  • Loss of consciousness

While these symptoms may be quite common due to a whole list of other causes, it’s best you visit your GP to rule out the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning. If you start to notice that you feel better outside of your home but feel dizzy and develop headaches at home, you should visit your GP immediately. Once you’ve got to the root of the cause, it’s crucial that you phone the National Gas Emergency Service immediately. Gas leaks and carbon monoxide in your home is extremely dangerous and requires the highest levels of caution.

Contact the National Gas Emergency Service number on 0800 111 999 immediately. Alternatively, you can contact the Safety Executive (HSE) Gas Safety Advice Line on 0800 300 363.

What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

One of the key things to remember is that chimneys, flues, and vents need to be almost completely free of blockages, otherwise you could increase the risks of carbon monoxide leaks. If you have your gas appliances regularly serviced by Gas Safe registered engineers, you can eliminate any sort of risk of carbon monoxide leaks. The most important device that should be installed in every home is a carbon monoxide safety alarm. Please bear in mind that if you do get a carbon monoxide alarm, you still need to ensure your gas appliances are maintained and serviced properly to avoid any risks further down the line.

At this point you’re probably wondering what kind of signs to look out for, especially if your gas appliances are no longer completing the combustion process:

  • Flames are yellow or orange rather than blue flames
  • Soot or yellow/brown staining around or on appliances
  • Increased condensation on your windows

If you notice any of the above, here are the steps to take:

  • Switch off all your appliances and stop using them completely.
  • Open doors and windows to ventilate your home.
  • Evacuate the property and make sure to stay calm in the process. A raised heart rate could lead to collapse or loss of breath due to the carbon monoxide.
  • Do not re-enter the property until a Gas Safety specialists and emergency services have inspected the property.
  • If you are experiencing any of the symptoms, make sure to seek immediate medical help. The fresh air from the outside world may not fix your symptoms.

How can you protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning?

You can ensure your home is Gas Safe by following these five simple rules:

  • Never use anyone but a Gas Safe registered engineer for any heating-related works.
  • Ensure that your gas appliances are serviced annually.
  • Make sure your appliances are all fully ventilated.
  • Install a carbon monoxide alarm that meets British or European Standards (every home should have one, if you don’t, make sure to pick one up today!)

Carbon Monoxide Myth-busting

Myth 1 – Carbon monoxide has a slight smell
Carbon monoxide is also called the “silent killer” because it is odourless.

Myth 2 – You only get carbon monoxide leaks from older gas appliances
This isn’t strictly true. The main cause of carbon monoxide leaks is mainly from blockages in ventilation.

Myth 3 – Installing a CO alarm is all you need to protect your home
It’s a step forward but it doesn’t prevent any risks posed from your gas appliances. It’s important to ensure they are inspected regularly.

Myth 4 – Carbon monoxide is only dangerous if you’re exposed to high levels of it
If you experience any of the relevant symptoms above, you must leave your property right away.

Myth 5 – The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning aren’t particularly obvious
There are various symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, leave home immediately if you experience any of them.

Myth 6 – Opening windows will eliminate carbon monoxide due to the outside air
You need to leave your home immediately. Otherwise, you will still suffer from the effects of carbon monoxide.

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