Colourless, odourless and tasteless, carbon monoxide is the very definition of a silent killer.

For contractors, knowing the indicators and warning signs of carbon monoxide and carbon monoxide poisoning can sometimes mean the difference between life and death.

Specialised tools such as those designed for automatic gas analysis and sensing carbon monoxide can help you quickly and easily detect the presence of this deadly gas.

However, it is still important to have a firm understanding of what carbon monoxide is and how it presents itself, in order to keep you and your clients safe at all times.

With that in mind, here is a guide to the essential things you should know about carbon monoxide and carbon monoxide poisoning.

What is carbon monoxide poisoning? 

Carbon monoxide poisoning results when an individual inhales carbon monoxide for an extended period of time.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), red blood cells are able to pick up carbon monoxide more quickly than oxygen. As a result, excessive inhalation of carbon monoxide can result in the gas blocking oxygen from getting into the body.

This lack of oxygen, combined with the natural degrading powers of carbon monoxide, can quickly lead to muscle tissue being broken down, and serious injury occurring.

Carbon monoxide is a fairly common household gas, often found in combustion fumes produced by appliances and heating systems, making this a far more prevalent hazard than other types of gas poisoning.

What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

There are a number of important warning signs which you should look out for when dealing with carbon monoxide. These include headaches, nausea, dizziness, breathlessness, and loss of consciousness.

Because many of these symptoms are also bought on by other conditions – such as food poisoning and the flu – many people mistake carbon monoxide poisoning for a less serious ailment. However, this can be a deadly mistake to make.

It’s important to note that the severity and suddenness of carbon monoxide poisoning can vary based on the amount of carbon monoxide in the air.

Humans can withstand several hours of constant exposure to extremely low concentrations of carbon monoxide (less than 35 ppm) before experiencing anything as much as a headache. However, higher concentrations of up to 3,200 ppm can induce headaches and dizziness within 10 minutes, and result in death within half an hour.

Under extreme carbon monoxide concentrations (12,800 ppm or more), death can result in under three minutes.

What do I do if I have been affected by carbon monoxide? 

If you are beginning to feel the affects of carbon monoxide poisoning, it is important that you remove yourself from the area as quickly as possible and seek fresh air. Do not stop to gather tools and equipment, especially if the symptoms have come on suddenly and strongly.

Make sure everyone else in the area is evacuated as quickly as possible. If you have time to open windows and doors as you leave the building, do so, however do not stay in the vicinity for longer than necessary.

Take steps to ensure nobody enters the premise where the carbon monoxide leak is present. If the leak is serious, contact the authorities immediately and inform them of the situation.

You should then contact a doctor or go to the hospital as quickly as possible. Inform them that you believe you are suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning.

They will be able to treat you with oxygen therapy, which will help abate the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. They will also be able to assess you for any long-term health implications.

It is important to take the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning seriously. By understanding the risks and arming yourself with the correct tools, you can ensure that you do not fall victim to this silent killer.

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