You are here:

Carbon Monoxide poisoning

If volumes of smoke or gas are inhaled or breathed in, it can be deadly. If a casualty has inhaled fumes they need immediate medical attention as they are likely to have low levels of oxygen in their blood and tissues.

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas. When inhaled, the gas directly prevents the red blood cells from carrying oxygen to the body’s tissues and organs. It can quickly prove fatal if it is inhaled in large amounts, for example from vehicle exhaust fumes or smoke within a confined space, or even in small amounts, for example due to leakage of fumes from a faulty boiler or heater.

Carbon monoxide is difficult to detect as it has no taste or smell. Unfortunately, lots of people who have carbon monoxide poisoning may not be aware that they are affected and may wrongly blame their symptoms on other reasons. The young and the old are at increased risk. It is best to reduce the risk of poisoning by making sure that gas appliances are serviced regularly and by fitting an approved carbon monoxide detector in your home.

What to look for

If the casualty has had exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide for prolonged periods of time, they may complain of:

  • • Headaches
  • • Confusion
  • • Feeling aggressive
  • • Nausea and vomiting
  • • Diarrhoea

Severe symptoms may include:

  • • Grey-blue skin colouration
  • • Rapid, difficult breathing
  • • Impaired level of response, leading to unresponsiveness

What you need to do

  • • Call the emergency services on 999 or 112 and tell them that you suspect inhalation of fumes.
  • • If necessary, get them away from the source of the fumes into an environment with fresh air. Do not enter the fume-filled area yourself. If the casualty is in a closed space filled with exhaust fumes, open the doors letting the fumes escape before you enter.
  • • Support the casualty in a comfortable position and encourage the casualty to breathe normally. Reassure them. Stay with them until the emergency services arrive.
  • • Treat any burns or other injuries.
  • • Monitor the casualty by keeping an eye on their breathing, response and pulse. If the casualty is unresponsive, open the airway, check for breathing and if necessary, perform CPR.

Book a first aid course

With thousands of training courses across the country, be the difference between a life lost and a life saved and book now.

Find your course