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

  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Vertigo
  • 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.

    Further information

    Information on gas safety

    Gas emergencies

  • This article published on
    25 November 2005

    Next review date 11/1/2013


    First aid

    Areaof the body


    Male or female?


      Home | Terms & conditions | Privacy policy | Site map
    Owned and Managed by StudentHealth Ltd