Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odourless, tasteless and colourless gas that is produced when an item with high carbon content is combusted. This gas is also present in the fumes generated by heaters, car engines, car mufflers, fireplaces, water heaters, charcoal grills and portable generators.
Experts suggest that almost everybody is exposed to trace amounts of carbon monoxide on a daily basis. Fortunately, at such low levels, it does not cause any problem. However, when larger amounts of carbon monoxide are inhaled, it can build up in the bloodstream, leading to carbon monoxide poisoning. In the worst case scenario, it can result in death.
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- Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Risks of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Complications of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Preventing carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Diagnosis and treatment.
- Claiming compensation for carbon monoxide poisoning.
Since carbon monoxide does not have any distinctive taste or smell, and it is an invisible gas, most people are unaware when they are inhaling it. This makes it all the more important to recognise the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning so that you can seek immediate medical care at the earliest.
The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include:
- Dull headache;
- Difficulty breathing.
When you are exposed to large amounts of carbon monoxide, the oxygen in your bloodstream depletes quickly. As a result, you could start feeling dizzy and fall unconscious. Without immediate medical attention, it could result in death.
Seeking emergency care if you suspect you are experiencing the effects of CO poisoning is crucial. The earlier you receive the necessary treatment, the lesser the chances that you will experience long-term consequences.
Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs when there is large amounts of the gas present in the environment where you are at. Usually, the poisoning occurs in enclosed spaces that are not properly ventilated.
The risk of carbon monoxide poisoning increases if you happen to be in close proximity to any of these:
- Gas stoves;
- Heaters that burn fuel;
- Water heaters;
- An idling car in an enclosed space, like a garage;
- A recreational vehicle equipped with gas heater.
These items usually produce carbon monoxide in small quantities. However, if in an enclosed space that is inadequately ventilated, carbon monoxide can build up, leading to CO poisoning.
Carbon monoxide poisoning should not be taken lightly. Even a simple case of the poisoning can cause major complications, ranging from organ damage, heart injury, brain damage or death.
As carbon monoxide poisoning has the potential to cause major complications, it is critical that the affected individuals should receive emergency care as soon as possible.
Because of the indistinctive characteristics of carbon monoxide, the effects are usually not felt until it is too late. The best way to prevent CO poisoning is by installing a CO alarm in areas that have appliances or gadgets that emit carbon monoxide fumes. The alarm will monitor the level of the gas and if it exceeds healthy levels, it will give out an audible beep to warn the occupants of the room. On hearing the alarm, it is important that everyone evacuate the premises as soon as possible.
Other prevention measures include:
- Getting your home/workplace inspected periodically for hazards;
- Getting the chimneys and flues cleaned so that there is no blockage;
- Refraining from burning charcoal inside homes and workplaces;
- Getting furnace, gas ovens and stoves inspected by a certified professional to ensure there is no leak and the area around these appliances are well-ventilated;
- Not leaving petrol-powered engines such as lawn mowers, vehicles and generators, running in an enclosed space;
- Not blocking or sealing off exhaust vents and ducts of water heaters and other appliances.
If you or a loved one has suffered carbon monoxide poisoning, do not attempt to treat yourself. The best thing to do is to get to an open space as quickly as possible and call for an ambulance to get you to the nearest hospital. Never try and drive to the hospital yourself as you could pass out while driving, endangering yourself and others on the road.
On arrival at A&E, the healthcare professional will order a blood test to ascertain the amount of gas in your blood. Usually, symptoms of CO poisoning become apparent when the level of carbon monoxide in the blood reaches 70 parts per million.
While the lab results come, you will immediately be given oxygen. The doctors will place a face mask on you so that you can inhale the oxygen quickly. This prompt treatment is necessary to avert life-threatening complications. In case you are unable to breathe on your own, you will be put on a ventilator.
If the hospital is equipped, you may be placed in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. Usually, this treatment is reserved for severe carbon monoxide poisoning as it increases oxygen levels in the blood quickly.
Yes, you may be able to claim for CO poisoning under the following circumstances:
- Rented Accommodation: If you are living in rented accommodation, it is your council, housing association or the landlord’s responsibility to ensure you are provided with safe living conditions. You may be entitled to seek compensation from your landlord, council or housing association if a faulty or leaking appliance in the property has resulted in carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Own Home: If your exposure to carbon monoxide occurred due to a faulty appliance in your own home, you may be able to make a claim from the manufacturer or supplier of the appliance. It is important to note that if the leak was due to your own fault, such as not maintaining the appliance or equipment, causes CO poisoning, you will not be entitled to any compensation.
- Workplace: It is your employer’s responsibility to ensure you enjoy safe working conditions in all respects. Among other things, they must put measures in place to ensure that workers are not exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide. Getting carbon monoxide detectors fitted is just one of many things they can do. If you suffered CO poisoning at work, it could be due to your employer’s negligence. Under such circumstances, you may have a right to be compensated.