Carbon monoxide poisoning
Students should be aware of the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning which still claims the lives of up to 50 people per year and injures four times this number. Some people are left with permanent neurological damage.
Poor maintenance of appliances that burn carbon-containing fuel. Inadequate removal by blocked or partially blocked chimneys and flues allows levels to rise to dangerously high levels. These problems are not limited to poor housing and student accommodation, but as you are not directly responsible for the state of your chimneys and flues you should be extra vigilant.
Diagnosis can be difficult, as symptoms are vague and indistinct. They include
- Nausea and vomiting
- Change in conscious level
- Subjective weakness
Long term exposure to lower levels will produce symptoms similar to any viral illness whilst high levels will produce collapse.
Pointers that may help in the diagnosis are:
- If more than one person in the house is affected
- Symptoms improve when away from home and recur on return
- May be more noticeable when cooking if the stove is the culprit
- May be more noticeable in winter if the heating is faulty
In the house/flat you may notice the following
Black sooty marks on the radiants of gas fires and on the walls around stoves, boilers and fires. They may also be obvious inside the flues above boilers
The smell of smoke may be obvious in rooms when flues are faulty. Although carbon monoxide has no smell, other products of combustion do smell.
The flames on the gas appliances may be burning yellow rather than blue.
If you suspect that your gas appliances may be faulty ensure adequate ventilation, open your windows even if it is cold. Ring an engineer immediately. If you look in the phone directory under GAS, there will be a number to ring for a 24 hour service for gas escapes. Tell them that you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning.
Around 30 people die every year from gas-related carbon monoxide poisoning, often confusing the symptoms with flu.
Help prevent a fatal mistake and refer patients concerned about the risks to CORGI for a gas safety check.
Information on gas safety
This article published on
25 November 2005
Next review date 11/1/2013