5 Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Symptoms

Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is a silent but deadly threat in many Australian homes. This odourless, colourless gas can cause severe health issues, often without the victim realising the danger.

Understanding the symptoms of CO poisoning is crucial for protecting your family. Early detection can prevent long-term health complications and even save lives.

In this article, we will explore the five key symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning that every homeowner should be aware of to diagnose carbon monoxide poisoning. By being informed, you can take the necessary steps to ensure your home is safe from this invisible hazard.

What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless gas produced by burning fuels such as gas, wood, coal, and oil. It is often referred to as a silent killer because it is undetectable without specialised equipment.

In homes, common appliances that produce carbon monoxide include gas heaters, gas stoves, fireplaces, and water heaters. Poor ventilation or faulty fuel-burning appliances can lead to dangerous levels of CO buildup. Understanding where CO comes from is necessary to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning and to protect your household from potential poisoning.

1. Headache

One of the earliest and most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning is a headache. Unlike typical headaches, these can start suddenly and may be persistent, especially when you’re at home and alleviated when you leave the premises.

Carbon monoxide headaches are often described as dull, throbbing pain. They may be accompanied by a feeling of pressure around the forehead or temples. It’s easy to mistake these headaches for stress or a minor illness, which is why they can be particularly dangerous.

If you or your family members experience frequent or severe headaches, especially if multiple people in the household are affected, it is essential to consider CO poisoning as a potential cause.

Ventilate your home immediately and seek medical advice. Installing a carbon monoxide detector can also help alert you to dangerous levels before symptoms occur.

2. Dizziness and Weakness

Dizziness and weakness are key symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, often presenting alongside headaches. These symptoms can manifest as a sudden onset of lightheadedness, a feeling of being off-balance, or general physical weakness that makes daily tasks difficult.

These symptoms are often mistaken for other common issues, such as dehydration, fatigue, or a minor illness. However, if dizziness and weakness occur frequently and predominantly when you are at home, they could indicate carbon monoxide exposure. Pay close attention to whether these symptoms improve when you spend time away from home, as this is a critical clue.

If you or your family experience unexplained dizziness and weakness, it is vital to act quickly. Open windows and doors to ventilate your home and move outside to fresh air immediately. Seek medical attention and have your home inspected for CO leaks to prevent further exposure.

Man suffering from CO poisoning

3. Nausea and Vomiting

Nausea and vomiting are common and early symptoms of CO poisoning, often mistaken for signs of less serious conditions.

Here are some key points to understand:

  • Early warning: Exposure to CO can disrupt oxygen delivery in the body, which may trigger these symptoms as an initial warning. Individuals might experience nausea without a clear cause, potentially accompanied by dizziness.
  • Severity and duration: The severity of nausea and vomiting can vary depending on the duration and level of CO exposure. Symptoms can escalate quickly, underscoring the need for prompt action.
  • Context is crucial: These symptoms alone can be misleading; however, if they occur simultaneously with other signs of CO poisoning − like headache, fatigue, or confusion − consider CO exposure as a possible cause.
  • Misdiagnosis potential: Due to their non-specific nature, these symptoms are often mistaken for flu or food poisoning. It’s important to assess the environment for potential CO sources if these symptoms arise unexpectedly and persistently.
  • Immediate steps: If CO poisoning is suspected, it’s critical to get fresh air immediately, evacuate the affected area, and seek medical attention. Verification of CO in the bloodstream can confirm the diagnosis and facilitate timely treatment.

Recognising these symptoms as potential indicators of carbon monoxide poisoning can be crucial for early intervention and preventing more severe health effects.

4. Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath is a serious symptom of carbon monoxide poisoning that occurs when the body’s pure oxygen supply is compromised. This symptom can be particularly concerning as it may rapidly escalate to a medical emergency if not addressed promptly.

People experiencing shortness of breath due to CO poisoning may feel as if they cannot get enough air, even while at rest. This can be accompanied by chest pain or a feeling of suffocation, which can be mistaken for other respiratory conditions like asthma or a panic attack.

If you or anyone in your household experiences unexplained shortness of breath, especially if it occurs indoors, it is crucial to act immediately. Ensure the home is ventilated by opening windows and doors, and move everyone to fresh air.

Seek urgent medical assistance and have your home checked for CO leaks to prevent further exposure. Installing CO detectors can provide an early warning and help keep your family safe.

5. Confusion and Disorientation

Confusion and disorientation are severe symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, indicating significant exposure to the gas. These cognitive impairments occur because CO reduces the oxygen supply to the brain, affecting its function.

Individuals experiencing CO-related confusion may have difficulty thinking, remembering things, or performing simple tasks. Disorientation can manifest as a loss of sense of time and place, making it hard to navigate familiar environments. These symptoms can be particularly dangerous for children and the elderly, who are more vulnerable to the effects of CO.

If you notice someone in your home becoming confused or disoriented without a clear cause, it is critical to consider carbon monoxide poisoning. Ventilate your home immediately, move everyone to fresh air, and seek emergency medical attention.

Installing carbon monoxide detectors can help prevent these serious symptoms by providing early warnings of dangerous CO levels in your home.

Testing for a CO leak

Recognise the Signs of a CO Leak

Recognising the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning is vital for ensuring the safety of your household. Headaches, dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, and confusion are key indicators of CO exposure that should never be ignored.

By staying informed and vigilant, you can protect your family from this invisible hazard. Regularly have a registered gas fitter over to maintain your gas appliances, ensure proper ventilation, and install CO detectors to provide early warnings.

Awareness and prompt action can prevent serious health risks and save lives. Always prioritise safety and take the necessary steps to keep your home free from carbon monoxide dangers.

Please note: This information is provided for advice purposes only. Regulations differ from state to state, so please consult your local authorities or an industry professional before proceeding with any work. See our Terms & Conditions here.