The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can easily be mistaken for the other illnesses such as the flu, food poisoning or a viral infection. Prolonged exposure to CO can lead to these symptoms gradually getting worse and higher levels of carbon monoxide can cause more severe symptoms.
Being able to recognise the main symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning could save lives and ensure that carbon monoxide poisoning isn't mistaken for something else. It is important to remember that your symptoms will be less severe when you are away from the source of carbon monoxide and to check if others, including pets, are experiencing similar symptoms.
The main symptoms to look out for include:
Having persistent dull headaches and tension type headaches.
Having waves of dizziness or feeling light headed and off balance.
Feeling like you need to be sick (nausea) and actually being sick (vomiting)
Pains in your stomach or lower abdomen, sometimes accompanied by diarrhoea.
Sudden shortness of breath or difficulty breathing (dyspnoea)
Having no energy or feeling tired, sleepy, lethargic and sluggish.
Sudden collapse, seizures or loss of consciousness.
Confusion, difficulty concentrating and becoming easily irritated.
If you think you or someone else is suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning you should seek medical advice ASAP. Your symptoms will often indicate if you have carbon monoxide poisoning but a blood test will confirm the amount of carboxyhaemoglobin in your blood. You will also need to make sure the area where you were exposed to carbon monoxide can be made safe before you or anyone else returns.
If your level of carboxyhaemoglobin is above 30% this would indicate severe carbon monoxide exposure and you will require medical treatment.
Standard oxygen therapy can be given to patients that have been exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide. 100% oxygen will be supplied through a tight-fitting mask. Inhaling concentrated oxygen allows the body to quickly replace the carboxyhaemoglobin.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) floods the body with pure oxygen and may be offered as a treatment in some cases of carbon monoxide poisoning. It is usually recommended in cases where there has been extensive exposure and nerve damage is suspected.
Many people are unaware of the devastating effects of carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon Monoxide has no colour, smell or taste and cannot be detected by the human senses. It is extremely dangerous, binding itself to the haemoglobin in red blood cells and preventing them from transporting oxygen around the body.
According to statistics released by the Office for National Statistics, throughout England and Wales there are an average of over 60 deaths every year due to accidental exposure to carbon monoxide - up to 45% of which occur in the home.
Figure from the Department of Health show that there are around 4000 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning treated in A&E Departments across England each year - even mild cases can exacerbate existing conditions such as respiratory illnesses, leading to fatalities.
A study of more than 27,000 properties by the Liverpool John Moores University, supported by the Merseyside and West Midlands Fire Services, found that less than 10% of homes have a single carbon monoxide alarm to protect occupants from this deadly gas.
Source: Liverpool John Moores University