You can’t see, taste or smell it. You may put your constant headache down to flu or even a bad hangover. Severe symptoms include vertigo, nausea or breathlessness. It’s currently killing around 60 people a year and sending around 4,000 to A&E.
I’m talking about carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. CO is a colourless and odourless gas that’s produced when carbon-based fuel is incompletely burnt. Normally our red blood cells deliver oxygen to our heart, brain, vital organs and the rest of the body. But CO binds 240 times more strongly to the red blood cells, displacing oxygen with potentially lethal consequences.
Exposure can occur in confined spaces with poor ventilation, particularly in winter with closed windows and heating. Add a poorly installed, faulty or badly maintained gas boiler, heater or cooker and you are at risk. Other sources include portable generators, blocked chimneys and clogged car exhausts.
Years ago I had radiators installed in summer and was advised to leave the heating on for 24 hours. I woke with a headache and nausea. Later, I realised an open window had been funnelling fumes from the flue into my bedroom. By then I’d turned it off and recovered. Others are not so lucky.
The trouble is low-level CO poisoning is difficult to identify. Brief exposure may feel like food poisoning or flu with headaches, nausea and dizziness. Over 30 per cent of people are likely to mistake the symptoms of CO poisoning as something else. Most people recover from low-level CO poisoning, though children, pregnant women, the elderly, those with heart or respiratory diseases are more vulnerable to complications.
With chronic low-level exposure symptoms appear more slowly. You may also suffer from irritability, memory issues, respiratory and heart problems – yet these are often attributed to other causes.
Exposure to higher levels of CO leads to more acute symptoms such as confusion, shortness of breath, heart attack, weakness, loss of consciousness or even death.
Carbon monoxide poisoning: Signs to look out for
- Other people in your home fall ill with similar symptoms.
- When you change location symptoms clear but return when you’re back.
- Symptoms get worse in winter.
- Your pets also become ill.
- Gas-powered appliances develop yellow or orange flames rather than blue, you see an increase in soot or yellow-brown staining, the pilot light frequently blows out, there is more window condensation or smoke builds up in rooms.
To stay safe, have appliances serviced regularly by a Gas Safe Registered engineer and ensure proper ventilation. Install a CO alarm (try fireangel.co.uk). Never use ovens to heat your home, or sleep in a room with a gas fire without a flue.
If you’re concerned about a leak, get into fresh air and phone the emergency line: 0800 111 999. If you suspect exposure, seek medical advice. If concerned about high levels, go straight to A&E. They can measure your CO levels, give you high-dose oxygen therapy and check for complications.
Add some sparkle to your five a day
If you fancy a fizzy drink but are put off by headlines about how unhealthy they are, Güt makes low-sugar, low-calorie versions. What’s unusual is that each 330ml can contains 4g of chicory inulin, a prebiotic fibre known to benefit the microbiome – those trillions of bugs in your large intestine that produce chemicals which help keep you healthy and happy.
As well as contributing to normal bowel function, the boost of inulin helps you to reach the ideal fibre target of 30g a day, something most of us don’t usually get close to achieving. Your fibre intake should come from many different sources but 4g per can is a good way to start.
I’m a big fan of drinking mainly plain water, but these make a very pleasant-tasting alternative. They’re also vegan and come in two flavours: Sicilian Lemon, Mint and Rooibos or Raspberry, Blueberry and Rooibos, all with an added gut-friendly boost.
For more information, go to gut-drinks.com.