Every year approximately 40 people die in Ireland from carbon monoxide poisoning.
In our First Aid Tip of the Month we want to focus on this silent killer, its symptoms and what to do if you feel you are affected or find a potential victim.
Please take a few minutes and familiarise yourself with the signs and symptoms and what to do if you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning
What causes it?
Gas, oil, coal and wood are all fuel sources that are used in many household appliances, including:
  • Boilers
  • Gas fires
  • Central heating systems
  • Water heaters Cookers
  • Open fires
If the fuel in these appliances does not burn fully, carbon monoxide (CO) gas is produced.
Common sources of carbon monoxide in the home include:
  • Faulty central heating systems
  • Gas appliances
  • Fires 
Blocked flues and chimneys mean the gas can’t escape and is inhaled by the unsuspecting individual.
What are the symptoms?
A headache is the most common symptom of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Other common symptoms include: 
  • Feeling sick (nausea) and dizziness
  • Feeling tired and confused
  • Being sick (vomiting) and having abdominal (stomach) pain
  • Shortness of breath and difficultly breathing (dyspnoea)
The symptoms of CO poisoning can resemble those of food poisoning and the flu. However, unlike flu, CO poisoning does not cause a high temperature (fever).
In children, the symptoms are similar to those of a stomach upset, with nausea and vomiting. More severe poisoning can result in a fast and irregular heart rate, hyperventilation, confusion, drowsiness and difficulty breathing. Seizures and loss of consciousness may also occur.
What’s the First Aid treatment?
The most important thing to do is to make sure to move the patient away from any source of the gas. Their signs and symptoms will then determine what happens next.
If the individual is only mildly affected they should seek medical attention, but may not need to be admitted to hospital. All other exposed individuals will require hospital treatment, providing basic life support as appropriate and giving oxygen before transferring the patient to hospital.
Stop using the appliance immediately and do not use it again until it has been checked by a registered installer or a qualified service agent.
Prevention is always better than cure
The best course of action is to take steps that prevent carbon monoxide becoming a problem in the first place. Be aware of the dangers and to identify the appliances that could emit CO gas. Be aware of the early warning signs of CO poisoning, and look out for the signs and symptoms.
The most reliable way of checking CO levels in your house is to install an audible CO alarm. CO alarms are available from DIY and hardware stores. There are several different types of CO alarm.
For more information visit carbonmonoxide.ie.
Occupational First Aid Instructor