Sunday 22 September 2019

CO poisoning: What you need to know about the 'silent killer'

HSE estimate that approximately 40 people die from accidental CO poisoning in Ireland every year
HSE estimate that approximately 40 people die from accidental CO poisoning in Ireland every year
Louise Kelly

Louise Kelly

Telling my friends and colleagues about my recent 'dice with death’ just seemed like a good way to begin a story of a not so life-threatening experience.

But the more I researched the dangers of the ‘silent killer’ that is carbon monoxide, the more I began to believe my own hype.

We’ll start the tale in the middle – which is when we (myself and my housemate) were first alerted to it – with the carbon monoxide (CO) alarm screaming holy thunder.

Windows and doors were thrown open, the alarm was battered into silence and the heating was turned off. Yes, our scare (and loss of working boiler) coincided quite unfortunately with the sudden drop in temperatures.

The gas men were contacted but no laughs were had. And a ‘hazard’ was identified due to a rare slow erosion in our boiler from dripping water.

Of course, the signs and symptoms of the evil gas we’d been inhaling over a number of weeks became clear when they were pointed out.

I had a few clumsier-than-usual house falls and the streaks on our kitchen ceiling told the malicious tale quite accurately.

The Google machine was then tapped into which is when the real fears began. The statistics, the science – and the very real tragedies.

Lucky for us, it only took a small scare to make us aware of the dangers of CO poisoning (and how important that little white alarm can be).

The facts and figures below are really worth a read to stay safe in your home.

What is?

The incomplete burning of fuel – whether it be gas, oil, coal or wood – produces carbon monoxide.

CO itself is poisonous and the HSE estimate that approximately 40 people die from accidental CO poisoning in Ireland every year.

The real danger is that the fact that it’s so difficult to detect – carbon monoxide has no smell, taste or colour so you can inhale it without even realising.

How to protect against?

Apart from getting your heating appliances serviced regularly and always aired, spend between €25 and €85 on a CO alarm and get it installed close enough to the appliance to detect the gas as soon as it’s present.

A carbon monoxide alarm can be bought for around €30

Having it in another room behind a closed door as we did is not the best idea apparently.

Those using real fires should ensure that the chimney/flue isn’t blocked and that the vents are clear.

Keeping an eye on the surround around your heat source is a good idea too.

The back of the door that encloses our boiler was nearly black by the time we became aware.

Symptoms of poisoning

On inhalation, CO enters your bloodstream, limiting the supply of oxygen around the body, essentially starving tissue and cells.

A compound called carboxyhaemoglobin in the bloodstream is created that has a detrimental impact on the blood vessels. This can lead to swelling in the brain, causing unconsciousness and nerve damage.

Common side effects also include headaches, dizziness and shortness of breath.

Diarrhoea, general sluggishness and flu-like symptoms can also be attributed to CO emissions.

Once caught in time, short-term exposure to the gas generally leaves no lasting damage.

However, a doctor’s visit is definitely worth it if you think you’ve been exposed at all.

What to do if your alarm goes off?

Turn off all appliances, sockets, and light switches. Open all doors and windows and step outside for some fresh air.

Phone a qualified service agent to come out to inspect and test your heating source and general residence for CO levels.

They will give you all the necessary warning and guidelines to follow until your home is given the all clear. Follow these rules!

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