CO Poisoning

CO Poisoning

What is CO?

Carbon Monoxide (chemical symbol: CO) is a colourless, odourless, tasteless and toxic gas created by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels (gas, oil, coal and wood), as used in our everyday appliances such as heaters, engines and boilers.

Having no colour, smell or taste means that it is very hard to detect. Inhaling carbon monoxide reduces the blood’s ability to carry oxygen, leaving the body’s organs and cells starved of oxygen. Each year, over 50 people die in the UK as a direct result of exposure to Carbon Monoxide Gas (CO). Many more people die through strokes and respiratory illness made worse by inhaling low levels of CO over prolonged periods. Still, more are left with permanent damage and invalidity. Pregnant women are particularly at risk.


The symptoms of mild Carbon Monoxide poisoning are similar to those of viral cold infections: headache, nausea, dizziness, sore throat and dry cough. More severe poisoning can result in a fast and irregular heart rate, over-breathing (hyperventilation), confusion, drowsiness and difficulty breathing. Ultimately it leads to coma and death.

Concentration of CO in the air

50 parts per million








Implications of exposure

Safety levels as specified by the Health & Safety Executive for a maximum of 30 minutes.

Slight headache

within 2-3 hours.

Frontal headache within 1-2 hours, becoming widespread in 3 hours.

Dizziness, nausea, convulsions within 45 minutes. Insensible in 2 hours.

Protecting your family

It is very important to carry out these steps, in order, to minimise CO damage in the home:

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