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Could your hangover or flu actually be carbon monoxide poisoning?

Gas Safe Register warns that over 80% of adults may mistake symptoms of CO poisoning for another ailment

New research published by Gas Safe Register suggests that fewer than 1 in 5 adults (just 18%) would consider that carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning could be responsible for symptoms such as nausea and headache. Instead, most would attribute them to a cold, the flu or even a hangover.

Given that latest figures estimate that 5.5 million homes in the UK are known to have unsafe gas appliances, these findings are a real cause for concern.

Would you know the symptoms of CO poisoning?

The symptoms of CO poisoning are very similar to the common ailments mentioned: fatigue, dizziness, nausea, headache, shortness of breath and chest pains. You may not get all these symptoms and their severity can vary, depending on the levels of CO present.

Clues there may be a CO issue

Given how comparable these symptoms are, you need to know how to distinguish a minor ailment from a potential killer. The following can help:

  • Do you feel better when out of the house? If symptoms reduce or even go away completely when you’re away from home this can be an indication that they are specific to a certain location which obviously wouldn’t be the case if it was a cold or the flu
  • Do you feel worse in some rooms of the home than others? CO originates from a faulty gas appliance, usually a boiler, gas fire or gas cooker. If you feel more poorly in the vicinity of any of these appliances it could be carbon monoxide
  • Does everyone in the house feel ill? This is not as clear cut as your size and health can affect your body’s response to CO (children and those with existing conditions are more likely to feel the effects). However, if everyone is feeling ill to some degree, that could be a sign that there is an issue in the house

Of course, a significant level of carbon monoxide may not give you time to make these assessments; it can potentially kill very quickly so you need to take measures to prevent it happening in the first place.

Preventing CO poisoning

The following precautions are simple and inexpensive but they could save your life:

  • Carbon monoxide alarms – having a CO alarm will warn you should CO become present. Keep them in the vicinity of gas appliances and make sure you test the batteries periodically
  • Make sure the room where you have your boiler is well ventilated and that nothing is blocking or covering the flue
  • Service gas appliances – an annual service by a Gas Safe registered engineer is recommended for gas appliances. While most understand the importance of having their gas boiler serviced, many overlook gas fires and cookers. These can usually all be done at the same time
  • Don’t try and ‘tinker’ with your boiler yourself if it’s not working properly: always get a Gas Safe registered engineer to repair it as you could actually make it dangerous

We produced a range of guides to gas safety for Gas Safety Week in September. You can see them all here.

All our gas engineers are Gas Safe registered. If you have any concerns about your gas appliances or just want a service to be on the safe side, please call us on 0800 032 6478 or send us a message using the form here.

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