Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: The Facts

Following on from last month’s near-tragedy, you have heard about carbon monoxide poisoning and know what it is. But do you know how easily it can happen, and the best ways to protect yourself, your friends and your family?

The dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning are relatively well-known to most of us, yet many only saw the true extent of the gas’ deadliness when, a few days ago, 14 people fell ill while catering a wedding in a complex in Ħal Farruġ, on the limits of Luqa, leaving two people clinging to life by a thread.

Known as ‘the silent killer’, carbon monoxide (CO) is a tasteless, odourless and colourless gas with properties (or rather a lack of properties) that make it very hard to detect.

In the UK alone, CO claims more than 50 lives a year and leaves more than 200 people suffering from severe illnesses. The good news, though? It is actually very easy to detect and contain.

What Causes It?

CO is produced when fuels such as gas, coal, oil and wood do not burn fully due to a depletion in oxygen in a confined space, and this leads to the release of carbon monoxide instead of carbon dioxide. When you breathe the gas in, it enters the bloodstream and reduces the amount of oxygen your blood can carry around your body, causing cells and tissue to die, and in extreme cases, leading to death.

How Do You Spot It?

There are many signs that can help you tell whether you or your loved ones might be suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. Things to look out for include: unexplained headaches that alleviate as soon as you leave certain areas, unexplained tiredness, confusion, stomach pains, flu-like symptoms with no fever, and shortness of breath.

On top of that, poorly-installed gas appliances will reveal a carbon monoxide leak through the colour of the flame they produce: yellow as opposed to blue. Carbon monoxide also tends to produce black, sooty marks around boilers and appliances. Knowledge, in this case, could save your life.

I Think Someone’s Been Poisoned! What To Do Next…

Treating a carbon monoxide leak is also simple as long as it hasn’t affected your body in irreparable ways. The first thing to do if you detect a leak is to ventilate the area and disconnect all appliances. The next step is to phone a doctor, but don’t be too worried. Pure oxygen therapy (breathing 100% oxygen) is usually all that’s needed to reverse or stop some of the damage that’s been caused by the poisoning. Just keep in mind that, like most illnesses, the earlier it is detected, the easier it is to cure. So, be aware, stay alert and be ready to help if you see a reason to.

Were you involved in last week’s event? Do you know more about CO poisoning and have tips for our readers? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this article!