Nicol Heating Services - About CO

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless, tasteless, poisonous gas produced by incomplete burning of carbon-based fuels, including gas, oil, wood and coal. Carbon-based fuels are safe to use. It is only when the fuel does not burn properly that excess CO is produced, which is poisonous.When CO enters the body, it prevents the blood from bringing oxygen to cells, tissues, and organs.

You can't see it, taste it or smell it but CO can kill quickly without warning. According to the HSE statistics around 20 people die from CO poisoning caused by gas appliances and flues that have not been properly installed, maintained or that are poorly ventilated. Levels that do not kill can cause serious harm to health if breathed in over a long period. In extreme cases paralysis and brain damage can be caused as a result of prolonged exposure to CO. Increasing public understanding of the risks of CO poisoning and taking sensible precautions could dramatically reduce this risk.

Prevention is Better than Cure

Don't wait for suspicious symptoms to show up before checking your boiler and gas appliances. Checked regularly by a qualified Gas Safe engineer, your appliances can keep right on working silently in the background while you relax, safe in the knowledge that they are not emitting dangerous levels of CO.

How CO Poisoning Affects The Body

Our blood has a component called haemoglobin, which normally absorbs oxygen from our lungs and distributes it around our body. Unfortunately haemoglobin absorbs carbon monoxide some 240 times as fast as it does oxygen.

This means that when we inhale carbon monoxide, it is this rather than oxygen that attaches to the haemoglobin, thus starving the body of oxygen. The smaller the person the more quickly they can be overcome by the effects of carbon monoxide.

Symptoms include severe headaches, dizziness, nausea and general lethargy. Sometimes these symptoms are confused with influenza, which can have disastrous consequences.

Severe carbon monoxide poisoning makes the victim's body turn cherry red in colour, unlike other forms of oxygen starvation such as choking where the body will turn slightly blue (cyanosis). Instead, the skin will turn pink or pale with bright red lips.

For more information visit the NHS or telephone NHS Direct on 0845 4647.

If you or your family experience any of the above symptoms and you believe CO may be involved, you must seek urgent medical advice from either your GP or an accident and emergency department. You should ask for a blood or breath test to confirm the presence of CO. Be aware, CO quickly leaves the blood and tests may be inaccurate if taken more than four hours after exposure has ceased.

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