The Dangers Of Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide has no taste or smell and does not cause any irritation to the skin or airways. This is why it is known as the silent killer, because it is a highly toxic gas that people often goes undetected until it is too late. In this country, around 60 people die each year of the dangers of carbon monoxide, and an even larger amount receives what is known as sub-lethal poisoning. However, it is believed that these figures are skewed because people who have died may be wrongfully diagnosed as having had a heart attack or other problems when carbon monoxide was the real culprit.

The biggest problem is that there is a serious lack of awareness around the dangers of carbon monoxide. This is true both for everyday people and medical professionals. Furthermore, carbon monoxide poisoning usually mimics other medical conditions, including the flu, gastroenteritis and food poisoning. The difference is, however, that poisoning doesn't cause people to develop a fever. The only way to overcome this silent killer is to raise awareness across the public about the dangers of carbon monoxide, as well as increasing the vigilance exhibited by healthcare professionals, so they are better able to detect poisoning. Certain people are at particular risk of poisoning, being pregnant women, children, people with heart conditions and babies. However, even those who do not fall into these categories can be at high risk.

What Is the Source of Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is a gas that is produced when carbon containing fuels do not fully burn. Carbon containing fuels include domestic and boiled gas, oil, coal, wood and coke. This means appliances such as fires, gas stoves, boilers, water heaters and paraffin heaters can all produce carbon monoxide. The dangers of carbon monoxide occur when these appliances do not get maintained regularly, when they are not serviced when they should or if they are placed in areas with poor ventilation. Combustion creates waste products and when these are not removed, the gas can enter rooms where people are present. For instance, if a flue or chimney is blocked, the carbon monoxide has no way of escaping.

These problems happen regularly in old properties, but also in brand new properties that have poorly installed gas central heating. Another very common cause is found in garages where people leave their car running to warm up. This is why a common suicide attempt is found in people who run a tube from their exhaust into their car. In domestic properties, the most common culprits of carbon monoxide poisoning are blocked flues and chimneys, domestic heating systems, poor ventilation in living areas or in adjoining garages and leakages from appliances, flues or chimneys that are faulty. Silent Killer

Where Does Carbon Monoxide Come From?

As soon as a fire is lit in a room with little or no ventilation, the oxygen levels in that room start to decrease. Simultaneously, the levels of carbon dioxide go up. When the levels of these two gases start to change, the combustion process changes too, which is where the dangers of carbon monoxide come from. When there is decreased oxygen, complete combustion becomes more and more difficult. At this point, carbon monoxide starts to be present. This is the key to a very important issue.

Even if someone has the most modern heating system or other combustion device and services and maintains it all the time, carbon monoxide can still be created if there is only poor ventilation present. However, if appliances don't operate properly, the dangers of carbon monoxide are even more likely to happen. This is why all appliances should always be maintained and serviced regularly, but also why ventilation is so important. These two simple things can prevent potentially deadly situations. 

How Does Carbon Monoxide Poison Our Bodies?

In order to understand the process of poisoning, some simple biology knowledge is necessary. Our bodies transport oxygen throughout our bodies through our red blood cells. We receive this oxygen from the air that we breathe. The oxygen binds with the hemoglobin in our blood, which is what gives it the red color. The hemoglobin passes through the lungs, where it releases carbon dioxide, which is also produced by our metabolism. This is then released when we exhale. When oxygen and hemoglobin combine, this is known as oxyhemoglobin, which is oxygenated blood. This goes into our bloodstream and feeds every tissue in our body.

Carbon monoxide binds to hemoglobin in exactly the same way. However, it binds some 240 times tighter than what oxygen does. Rather than creating oxyhemoglobin, it creates carboxyhemoglobin. So, when oxygen and carbon monoxide get inhaled, the carbon monoxide is stronger and will bind to the hemoglobin, rather than the oxygen. As a result, our bodies and all of our tissue become starved of oxygen and start to die. The dangers of carbon monoxide should be quite clear, but there are other problems as well. Carboxyhemoglobin affects the blood vessels, making them leak. Where this is most prominent is in the brain and many people with severe carbon monoxide poisoning experience swelling of the brain, eventually causing them to lose consciousness and die.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The biggest problem with carbon monoxide poisoning is that its symptoms are so like other conditions. The dangers of carbon monoxide are that people are often exposed to low levels for extended periods of time, meaning their symptoms are quite gradual. Furthermore, poisoning can come in varying degrees of severity, which depends on how much of the gas is present in the environment, how long people are exposed, how old the patient is, what their overall health is and how much they engage in physical activity in a room with carbon monoxide (the higher the levels of activity, the quicker people will be poisoned). 

Carbon monoxide symptoms

The dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning are quite well known, although scientists still need to research the long term effects. The biggest dangers of carbon monoxide, however, are that people may be slowly getting poisoned without ever thinking about it. After all, when we get a headache (found in 90% of people with carbon monoxide poisoning), we take a tablet and don't presume we are actually getting poisoned. If you have any reason to suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, seek medical attention immediately.



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.


Need help?