Carbon Monoxide – The Silent Killer

Carbon monoxide poisoning is the most common type of poisoning worldwide. Every year, many people die from CO poisoning caused by gas appliances that have not been properly installed, maintained or that are poorly ventilated.

What is carbon monoxide? 

Carbon monoxide is a gas that comes from incompletely burning gas, wood, propane, and a number of other fuels. Carbon monoxide is present in smoke, motor exhaust and smog, just to name a few. The source of CO are fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces, ranges, water heaters and room heaters; engine-powered equipment such as portable generators; fireplaces; and charcoal that is burned in homes and other enclosed areas, or non-consumer products, such as cars left running in closed garages.

Carbon monoxide is a toxic (poisonous) gas, colourless, odourless, tasteless, and initially non-irritating.

What are the symptoms of poisoning? 

Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs after too much inhalation of carbon monoxide and it is hard to diagnose. It’s easier to recognise carbon monoxide poisoning when more than one person in the home or the school, the office, the car, etc., show symptoms.

Symptoms of mild acute poisoning look a lot like a flu and include lightheadedness, confusion, headache, and vertigo. This insidious gas affects each person a little differently, so unless healthcare providers suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, they’re likely to overlook it.

Larger exposures can lead to significant toxicity of the central nervous system and heart, and death. Chronic exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide can lead to depression, confusion, and memory loss.

Treatment of poisoning largely consists of administering 100% oxygen or providing hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Oxygen works as an antidote as it increases the removal of carbon monoxide from haemoglobin, in turn providing the body with normal levels of oxygen.

Prevention is key to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

  • Schedule annual checks for your heating appliances, including oil and gas furnaces, gas heating, fire places and chimneys.
  • Ensure that all boiler tubes and chimneys are in good conditions and not blocked.
  • Never leave your car engine running in the garage, even when the garage door is open.
  • Do not use a gas stove to heat your home, not even for a short time.
  • Never use a charcoal barbecues indoors.
  • If you have gas heating, sleep with the windows open.
  • Do not use machinery using petrol indoors, including lawn-mowers, chainsaws, or other small machinery.
  • Install and maintain all household appliances properly

Another important step in preventing carbon monoxide poisoning is to install CO detectors (in German “Kohlenmonoxid Melder”, in French “Detecter de monoxide de carbon”) in every room with appliances at home. It’s the combination of prevention measures and installing these detectors that help keeping you safe.

If you are looking to buy CO detectors, we recommend our partner FamilySafety.