Carbon Monoxide

It is estimated that nationally around 40 people die and 4,000 people attend accident and emergency departments because of accidental carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.

In Cornwall, did you know:

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  • Those most at risk from CO poisoning are the under 14’s and the over 65’s.
  • Over the past year the Service has received 112 calls relating to CO, one less incident than the previous year.
  • Of these calls, just 34 incidents had CO confirmed at the scene.
  • 67% of calls were categorised false alarms.
  • The total number of incidents where CO has been confirmed at the scene increased by 9 on the previous year.
  • Last year there were no fatalities as a result of CO poisoning in Cornwall.
  • Over the past three years there have been six deaths due to CO poisoning in Cornwall.

What is Carbon Monoxide?

  • Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless, tasteless, poisonous gas produced by incomplete burning of carbon based fuels including gas, oil, wood and coal.
  • Sources can include cookers, heaters and fire places.
  • CO poisoning kills 40 people and injures a further 300 every year in the UK.
  • You can’t see it, taste it or smell it, but CO can kill quickly without warning.

What are the symptoms of Carbon Monoxide poisoning?

Early symptoms of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning can mimic many common ailments and may easily be confused with food poisoning, viral infections, flu or simple tiredness.

  • headache,
  • feeling sick (nausea) and dizziness,
  • you may also feel tired and confused, and
  • some people are sick (vomit) and have abdominal pain.  

The symptoms of CO poisoning can resemble those of food poisoning and the flu because they have similar symptoms. However, unlike flu, CO poisoning does not cause a high temperature.

Symptoms that may come on later include:

  • confusion,
  • loss of memory, and
  • problems with co-ordination.

For more information visit NHS direct or telephone 0845 4647 (find out about call charges).

If you suspect you have carbon monoxide poisoning, don't hesitate to visit your General Practitioner (GP) as soon as possible. Diagnosing carbon monoxide poisoning is not easy because it simulates many other conditions, so do say what you think is wrong.

Ask for either a blood and/or breath sample to be taken without delay. That's because your body's carbon monoxide level will reduce the longer you are away from the contaminated environment, making it harder to detect.

How to prevent Carbon Monoxide poisoning?

  • Make sure all appliances are installed and maintained by a professional.
  • Keep chimney flues free from blockages - for more information visit chimney fire safety.
  • Ensure your home has enough ventilation and airbricks are not blocked.
  • Protect your family from this silent killer by fitting a CO alarm approved to BS EN 50291.

What to do in an emergency?

  • In a CO emergency open the windows to ventilate.
  • Evacuate everyone outside to fresh air.
  • Go to your doctor or in an emergency call for an ambulance.