Carbon Monoxide In Your Home

It is very difficult for people to detect carbon monoxide. This is because the gas has neither smell nor taste and it is completely colorless. In other words, carbon monoxide in your home could be all around you, and you could be breathing it in without even knowing you're doing it.

This is why carbon monoxide poisoning is known as the silent killer. So where does carbon monoxide come from? Basically, whenever a fuel isn't burned all the way through, carbon monoxide is released. Most of the fuels that do this are found in our homes, such as oil, gas, wood and coal. Basically, if you have a fire in an enclosed space, oxygen is slowly replaced with carbon dioxide. However, fuel is then not able to fully burn, creating carbon monoxide in your home instead. Once you breathe it in, the gas enters your bloodstream. Here, it will mix with your hemoglobin. The hemoglobin is the part of the red blood cell responsible for carrying oxygen all through your body. When it reaches the hemoglobin, it creates carboxyhemoglobin. At this point, the blood cannot carry oxygen anymore. As a result, the cells in and tissues of the body start to die.

What Causes Leaks of Carbon Monoxide in Your Home?

Knowing causes is always very important. The main causes of carbon monoxide in your home are related to the poor installation or maintenance of appliances in the home, as well as poor ventilation. The usual culprits include heaters and cookers, as well as the boilers used for central heating. Another common cause for carbon monoxide in your home is if your chimneys or flues have been blocked, thereby stopping the gas from escaping. When it cannot escape, the quantity of the gas starts to build up, until it reaches dangerous levels.

Knowing the Signs of Carbon Monoxide in Your Home

You must be aware of the risks that carbon monoxide can cause and you have to know the signs. This can potentially allow you to save lives. If you find that people who frequent your home (or office) suddenly fall ill with the same symptoms, that could be a sign. Also, if you have symptoms yourself and you find that they go when you leave for a while, but come back when you return, that would be a major red flag for you having carbon monoxide in your home. If you notice that your symptoms seem to be affected by the seasons (such as if you get headaches only during the winter when your central heating is switched on), you also have reason to suspect carbon monoxide poisoning. There are visible signs as well.

Black, sooty marks that are found on the front cover of a gas fire are a sign of carbon monoxide, as are sooty marks around stoves, boilers or fires. If you find that smoke starts to build in a room, your flue is likely to be faulty and this could lead to carbon monoxide. Lastly, if you notice that the flames that come out of a gas appliance are yellow rather than blue, there is also a significant concern. Most of these signs show that an appliance in your home that is faulty or damaged, so make sure you have this checked too.

What to Do if You Suspect Carbon Monoxide in Your Home

You may find that numerous people in your environment start to develop symptoms very similar to flu and to food poisoning, but they don't have a fever. This is a good indication that there is carbon monoxide in your home. If this happens, you should switch off any heating or cooking appliances you have in your home, unless they use electricity. Next, you have to ventilate the area, by opening doors and windows all around. Once that has been done, move yourself away from the possible sources of carbon monoxide and call the health and safety representative for your building or your area. Make sure you visit a health professional as soon as possible too. If someone collapses or starts to feel really ill, your first responsibility would be to get them out and to phone for medical attention. You must also mention that you suspect carbon monoxide, since only specially qualified engineers are able to deal with these issues and tell you conclusively whether or not it is carbon monoxide.

How to Treat Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

If the worst happens and someone does fall ill with poisoning, it is imperative they get oxygen therapy at their nearest hospital immediately. Here, you will breathe 100% oxygen in through a very tight mask. Remember that regular air only contains 21% oxygen, which shows the urgency of the situation. This is the only way for your body to quickly get rid of the carboxyhemaglobin. Recovery times vary greatly, depending on how much of the gas was inhaled and how long a patient has been exposed to the gas as well. For those with sever carbon monoxide poisoning, it is quite common for long term complications to start appearing. This is true in some 15% of the cases, where people develop chronic heart and brain conditions.

Carbon Monoxide Risk Groups

Although carbon monoxide poisoning is a risk for everybody, certain groups of people are particularly at risk. This is because they will be affected by carbon monoxide in your home quicker and more severely. The risk groups are babies and infants, women who are pregnant, people with chronic lung conditions (such as asthma) and people who have a chronic heart disease. The very old are also at particular risk.

How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide

Prevention is always better than curing. The best way to achieve this is by being knowledgeable about carbon monoxide and how it is likely to be in your home. You can install CO alarms or dots, which will give you either visual or auditory warnings if something is wrong. The most important thing, however, is to service and maintain your appliances regularly.


Disclaimer: The information provided has been prepared as a guide only and the steps taken are likely to vary for different appliance models. We strongly recommend using a qualified engineer to undertake major repairs and fault finding.


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