Carbon monoxide poisoning: Who is most at risk?

Protecting vulnerable or low-income households this winter

As winter approaches and the nights draw in, we are all trying to stay warm at home. With increased use of fuel burning appliances such as log burners or gas boilers, we are all at greater risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. With over 4000 people attending A&E departments due to carbon monoxide poisoning in England each year, are some households more at risk than others?

Staying safe in the dead of winter

Dr Sotiris Vardoulakis 1 from Public Health England stated that many deaths relating to CO poisoning occur between November and February due to faulty fossil fuel and wood burning appliances leaking this lethal gas. He urges everyone to have their solid fuel burning appliances checked by a registered engineer before the start of winter and to have a suitable carbon monoxide alarm installed in each room containing an appliance.

Kidde carbon monoxide alarm placed near a gas fire
Kidde carbon monoxide alarm located near a gas fire

Who is most at risk?

Recent studies have shown that lower income households are more at risk of CO poisoning. Research carried out by the National Energy Action charity and the Gas Safety Trust found that 35% of low income and vulnerable households surveyed exceeded the 10ppm threshold for carbon monoxide levels. This threshold indicates levels of CO that are harmful with prolonged exposure, having adverse effects on the body and brain.

Why are low income and vulnerable households more at risk? 

There is shown to be a direct correlation between fuel poverty and carbon monoxide poisoning. Lower income households are often reliant on older boilers to heat their homes. These are often less efficient and carry a greater risk of emitting CO gas if not properly serviced and maintained. Some households in this category did not have a central heating system and were reliant on smaller, often older heaters or even gas stoves or cookers to heat their homes.

Research carried out by Dr Andy Shaw from Liverpool John Moores University found that deprived areas were less likely to own an audible CO alarm than homes in non-deprived areas, further increasing the risk of CO poisoning. As these households are more at risk of the presence of CO gas, having a detector is vital. CO gas is otherwise undetectable by humans without the presence of a CO detector due to it having no colour, taste or smell.

Over 60s were also found to be particularly vulnerable to CO poisoning. This could be attributed to the likelihood of them spending more time at home and feeling the cold, resulting in the need to use an appliance more regularly to stay warm. Elderly people, or those with respiratory problems are also more at risk from the effects of carbon monoxide, becoming ill more quickly. With symptoms being similar to those of flu or food poisoning, a headache, nausea and dizziness may be attributed to those common illnesses rather than to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Headache or dizziness is a symptom of co poisoning
The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can easily be mistaken for flu or a common cold or sickness bug

Other groups shown to be disproportionately affected by CO poisoning include pregnant women, young children, anyone with an existing respiratory condition and elderly people.

Common symptoms to look out for

Otherwise known as ‘the silent killer’, carbon monoxide can cause severe symptoms and even death if not detected quickly. Look out for these symptoms in yourself or others:

Symptoms of CO Poisoning

Supporting those most at risk

We can all play our part to ensure that vulnerable people and lower income households are protected against carbon monoxide poisoning. By ensuring that everyone follows these simple guidelines, we can help to protect ourselves and our communities.

  1. Be in the know about CO. Would you be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of CO poisoning? Learn how to spot the dangers, signs and symptoms of CO poisoning and help to educate those around you. Findings by the Gas Safe Register2 in 2019 revealed that only one in five respondents said they would be aware of a carbon monoxide leak in their homes if they felt unwell.
  2. Have your gas or solid fuel appliances serviced regularly. According to the latest UK inspection figures from Gas Safe Register, 5.5 million homes in the UK have unsafe gas appliances. When did you last have your appliance checked?
  3. Install a CO alarm where required. It is recommended that a carbon monoxide alarm be installed in every room in the house containing an appliance that could leak CO gas.  Is your home covered? Check with vulnerable friends, family or neighbours to see if they need help installing a carbon monoxide alarm.

The All-Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group (APPCOG) is calling for protection for the most vulnerable households in England to be a priority. Their recommendations include making it mandatory for CO alarms to be installed in every property whether it be private rented, social housing or owner-occupied. Scotland is introducing new regulations next year which include a stipulation to fit a carbon monoxide alarm in every home. It is hoped that other countries within the UK will follow suit.

Further information and advice on carbon monoxide poisoning including the signs and symptoms, and what to do in a CO emergency can be found on our information page. You can also download our printable information sheet which can be placed in a prominent place in your home. Or, why not give it to, or talk it through with anyone who you think could be vulnerable to carbon monoxide poisoning. This resource contains an action plan for what to do if a CO alarm sounds and what symptoms to look out for as well as general awareness.

Download our information sheet and share with relatives or friends

References:

  1. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/reduce-the-risk-of-carbon-monoxide-poisoning-over-winter
  2. https://www.gassaferegister.co.uk/news/news-2020/over-80-of-uk-adults-at-risk-of-missing-hangover-like-carbon-monoxide-poisoning-symptoms/

Are you in danger in your own home? Join the fight for a Gas Safe Nation

In light of the Covid 19 pandemic, safety is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. We all know that hand washing and basic hygiene are an essential part of life in 2020, but how many of us can be absolutely sure that our homes are gas safe? With Gas Safety Week celebrating its tenth year in 2020, it’s time to make sure that you, your friends and family are safe in your own homes.

Protect family and help them to get gas safe at home
Help loved ones and vulnerable individuals to get gas safe

Are you at risk of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Do you have a gas fire, gas boiler or gas oven? Frighteningly, statistics published by Gas Safety Week show that 1 in 2 gas fires inspected by a Gas Safe Engineer are unsafe. Carbon Monoxide emissions from a poorly fitted, poorly ventilated or faulty gas appliance can be deadly or have severe side effects. Carbon monoxide is odourless and colourless meaning that without a detector, it is very difficult to detect its presence.

There are 2 simple steps to follow to protect yourselves, your family and friends:

  1. Have your gas appliances checked and serviced every year by a Gas Safe Engineer. You can find a gas safety engineer near you here. Check to see if loved ones and vulnerable friends or neighbours have a gas safety certificate that is up to date.
  2. Install an audible carbon monoxide alarm and make sure your friends and relatives have one too. Check that they are marked EN50291 and display the British Standards’ Kitemark. You can find a great selection here that are suitable for use at home.

Common cold or Carbon monoxide poisoning?

The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are much like those of a common cold or flu to begin with but can ultimately lead to a coma and death. Headaches, nausea, dizziness, a sore throat or dry cough are all common complaints, but could be as a result of exposure to CO gas. If friends, family or loved ones complain of these symptoms, seem confused or are drowsy and are having trouble breathing, you need to be alert. If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, open all the windows and doors and leave your home immediately. Turn off any appliances that are in use and turn the gas off at the mains if you can. Call the Gas Emergency Services on 0800 111 999 as soon as you can. You should seek medical help straight away if you think that anyone in your household has carbon monoxide poisoning.

Identify symptoms of CO poisoning

Gas safety and Covid 19

There may be some nervousness about engineers visiting your home due to the spread of infection during the current pandemic. Tradesman have strict guidelines to follow set out by the government, but if you are worried you should check what measures your Gas Safe Engineer will be putting in place when he or she visits your home. It is important to proceed with your annual check if you can as you could be putting your family in danger of carbon monoxide poisoning. With some Covid 19 restrictions still in place, and many people working remotely, we are all spending more time at home. It is now as important as ever to make your home a safe place for you and your family.

Good carbon monoxide detector to use at home
Digital Display Carbon Monoxide Alarm 10 Yr Life – Kidde 5DCO

Protect loved ones with a carbon monoxide detector

If you have vulnerable or elderly friends, relatives or neighbours, why not give them peace of mind and help them to install a carbon monoxide detector? Carbon monoxide can travel through adjoining walls and so even if you are absolutely sure that all the appliances in your home are gas safe, a detector is the only way to have complete peace of mind. Many detectors have a long life and so remain reliable for long periods and with options for audio and visual cues, there is an alarm suitable for everyone. All of our Kidde battery-operated alarms are available for FREE delivery, so you can have them delivered directly to loved ones for no extra cost and with free standing options available and the battery included on many models, they can be up and running immediately on arrival. Why not browse the range here?

Gas Safety Week challenges us all to think about making our homes as safe from the dangers of gas as possible. For more information and advice, head to the gas safety week website. Or, for more information on CO alarms, please contact our customer care team on 0800 612 6537.

Carbon monoxide poisoning, how to diagnose this silent killer

The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are very similar to that of a general cold or flu and as a result can not only be overlooked by the sufferer but can also result in a misdiagnosis by your GP.

The main symptoms suffered are headaches, nausea and vomiting, vertigo type symptoms, an alteration in consciousness and lethargy. The risk of carbon monoxide poisoning increase as the cold weather begins and fires and heating systems are put back into service after the summer.

There is one very significant factor to consider if you have any of the symptoms above but are unsure if it is a cold, flu or indeed due to carbon monoxide being present. The symptoms from carbon monoxide can subside and even disappear when you are not in the area where the carbon monoxide is present. You may notice that when you go out to the shops or to work that your symptoms are much better but shortly after returning home the symptoms increase again. Cold and flu symptoms usually last no longer than a week; if your symptoms continue after this period consider the possibility that it could be as a result of carbon monoxide.

If you suspect that your symptoms could be due to carbon monoxide, act swiftly. Alert your doctor of your suspicions, contact either your gas supplier if you have gas appliances or alternatively contact your local council who can advise you who you need to call. Carbon monoxide can be produced by the incomplete combustion of all fossil fuel, gas, oil, coal, coke and wood. Carbon monoxide alarms are also available which will alert you should the levels of carbon monoxide rise above acceptable levels.