CO is a colourless and odourless gas, making its presence difficult to detect. It is formed when domestic fuels such as gas, coal, wood and charcoal are burned and by petrol engines. When fuel burns in an enclosed room, the oxygen in the room is gradually used up and replaced with carbon dioxide. If carbon dioxide builds up in the air, the fuel is prevented from burning fully and starts releasing carbon monoxide instead
How is Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning caused?
CO is so dangerous because it binds very tightly to haemoglobin in the red blood cells and so reduces the amount of oxygen which can be carried in the bloodstream. Haemoglobin is the molecule in the blood that oxygen binds to in order to be carried around the body. The binding of CO to haemoglobin is actually more than 200 times stronger than for oxygen, so the CO effectively takes up all the space on the haemoglobin. In addition, CO interferes with the delivery of oxygen from haemoglobin into the body tissues.
These effects severely reduce the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood and limit the availability of oxygen to the body, with the brain and heart being particularly vulnerable. This can lead to anoxic brain injury. Pregnant women and the foetus are particularly susceptible to the toxic effects of CO.
(Courtesy of Headway UK)
Carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms
Inadequate maintenance and installation of gas appliances and the use of faulty appliances can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Aches and pains
Extreme exposure can result in brain injury, major organ damage, loss of consciousness and even death.