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The potential of exposure to dangerous levels of harmful gases is not restricted to your work place. You can also be exposed to harmful gases at home. Your lungs provide a very large surface area through which the body gets all the oxygen that you need to stay alive whenever you breath. When you are exposed to toxic gases, the lungs will similarly provide entry for these gases into your body. Depending on the dose to which you are exposed, inhaling a toxic gas can cause harm to your body.
Some of the poisonous gases you are likely to be exposed to while at home include:
- Carbon monoxide (CO)
- Carbon dioxide (CO2)
- Hydrogen fluoride (HF)
- Hydrogen sulfide (H2S)
- Volatile organic compounds
Exposure to some of these gases, even in small amounts, can cause severe irritation and compromise your pulmonary health. Exposure can cause heart disease, lead to kidney failure, cause asphyxiation and even death.
We may all be exposed to these dangerous gases in our own homes. The focus of this article is carbon monoxide gas which is believed to be the most common toxic gas on earth.
Where does the risk of exposure to a deadly gas such as carbon monoxide in your home come from and how do you minimise these risks? Read on.
What Is Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon monoxide is a gas that has no smell (it is odourless), no colour (it is colourless), no taste (it is tasteless) and is believed to be the most common toxic gas on earth. It is emitted from coal mines, cigarette smoke and incomplete combustion of fuels such as diesel. Since it has no smell, colour or taste yet harmful to the body, carbon monoxide is also known as the silent killer.
Potential Sources Of Carbon Monoxide Leakage In The Home
At home, carbon monoxide is emitted when we burn fuel or as gas leaks from faulty home appliances. This silent killer gas can leak in your house and build up to dangerous levels without you noticing and only realise when you or a member of your household becomes ill. Some of the activities and appliances that are potential carbon monoxide sources at home include:
- Burning charcoal
- Clothe dryers
- Water heaters
- Furnaces or boilers
- Fireplaces, both gas and wood burning
- Gas stoves and ovens
- Motor vehicles with faulty exhausts
- Grills, generators, power tools and lawn equipment
- Burning wood
- Smoke from tobacco
- Central heating systems
- Open flued gas heaters
- Blocked flues and chimneys
Looking at the above list of the potential sources of carbon monoxide in our homes, you realise that in our bid to achieve favourable indoor climate conditions and fresh breathable air through home heating and air conditioning systems, we are actually exposing ourselves to deadly gases.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
When you are exposed to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide, the amount of oxygen in your body drops leading to a condition known as carbon monoxide poisoning.
It is difficult to detect that you are inhaling carbon monoxide until it has displaced substantial amounts of oxygen from your lungs and body, making you feel sick. Carbon monoxide poisoning can lead to terrible health consequences when your body cells and tissues begin to die for lack of oxygen.
Most victims of carbon monoxide poisoning lose consciousness and are always unable to seek help or move to safety without assistance. Incidences of carbon monoxide poisoning increase during winter when home heating systems are running nearly 24 hours.
Symptoms And Health Complications Of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
When gas leakage from any of your home heating appliances results in a build-up of carbon monoxide to dangerous levels inside the house, you and your household become exposed to this dangerous gas.
Carbon monoxide exposure and poisoning at lower levels may present symptoms that are similar to flu and food poisoning but should not be confused with the two or be ignored. You can tell that your symptoms are associated with carbon monoxide poisoning and not flu if they seem to get worse when you are at home but better when you are away from home. Also, absence of fever is an indication that your symptoms are as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning and not flu. Different exposure levels to carbon monoxide present with different symptoms that worsen gradually with long-term exposure.
The first sign of carbon monoxide exposure is mild headache that gradually progresses to severe levels with prolonged exposure.
Symptoms and health complications of CO poisoning include:
- Stomach pain
- Loss of consciousness
- Shortness of breath
- Impaired mental state
- Nausea and vomiting
- Brain damage
- Chest pains
- Heart diseases
- Harm to unborn babies
How To Handle A Suspected Case Of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Most victims of carbon monoxide poisoning become unconscious without knowing and are always unable to move to safety by themselves.
You may not need hospitalisation following a mild case of carbon monoxide poisoning, but it is still very important that you seek medical advice. While you may be able to tell from your symptoms whether or not you have been exposed to carbon monoxide, confirming the amount of carboxyhaemoglobin in your blood through a blood test is recommended.
Emergency cases of severe carbon monoxide poisoning require administration of concentrated oxygen to replace carboxyhaemoglobin in your blood. If nerve damage is suspected following severe carbon monoxide poisoning, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is used as treatment. Even though hyperbaric oxygen therapy is effective in managing morbidity of carbon monoxide, a percentage of people who recover exhibit long-term brain damage.
Who Is At A Greater Risk Of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
Even though we can all get ill and even die from carbon monoxide poisoning, some individuals are at a greater risk of carbon monoxide poisoning than others. They include:
- The elderly
- Young children
- People with underlying health conditions such as asthma, anaemia or cardiovascular complications
Also, people who enjoy outdoor activities such as camping and boating are at risk of exposure to high levels of carbon monoxide. While enjoying outdoor experience, we are likely to use fuel-burning equipment and appliances such as camp stoves, charcoal grills, portable generators, recreation vehicles, and heating equipment. You are therefore potentially exposed to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide whenever you participate in these activities.
How To Tell If There Is Carbon Monoxide Leakage In Or Around Your Home
Remember carbon monoxide gas is odourless, tasteless and invisible. The most reliable and most accurate way to tell if there is carbon monoxide in your home is by way of indoor air quality tests. You can hire local companies to perform indoor air quality tests that includes carbon monoxide testing in your home.
Indoor and outdoor levels of carbon monoxide should be the same. When there is imbalance in the concentration levels, it indicates the presence of a carbon monoxide source either inside or close to your house. When this happens, contact your local gas fitting experts to help you identify the source of the suspected carbon monoxide leakage inside or around your home.
When your indoor air quality is healthy, you breath fresh air and you generally stay in good health. You are, however, likely to fall sick when the quality of air you breathe is compromised by pollutants such as carbon monoxide gas. When you feel sick and have any or a combination of the carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms discussed above, you should investigate the possibility of carbon monoxide leakages in or around your home.
If you have installed gas leak detectors and smoke detectors to alert you in case of leakages or smoke in the house, you can easily tell when there is risk of carbon monoxide emission as the alarm will sound.
Most home heating and air conditioning appliances have pilot lights. Faulty pilot lights can be used as indicators of ongoing gas leakage in the house.
Gas Fitters Are The Best At Checking For Carbon Monoxide Leaks
Following safety tips recommended for preventing carbon monoxide and other gas leakages is very important in keeping your home safe. Proper installation of house appliances that use gas and fuel such as the ones listed in this article may act as safety checks. You should hire professionals to install your gas appliances and also contact them during emergency gas leakages.
Regular inspection, maintenance and prompt repair of gas appliances in your house by professional gas appliance plumbers helps you to identify any appliance that could potentially leak. This gives you enough time to take necessary steps to prevent carbon monoxide leakages.
Specifically, following these safety tips will help you keep your home safe from carbon monoxide leakages as well as protect your household members from carbon monoxide poisoning:
- Ensure fuel-burning appliances in your home are properly maintained and vented to the outside.
- You should know which appliances are meant for outdoor use only and avoid using them inside the house. For example, camp stoves and portable generators should not be operated inside the house.
- Regularly service your car to ensure components such as the exhaust pipes are not blocked. Also ensure that if you have an attached garage, do not run it there.
- Install carbon monoxide alarms and gas leakage detectors in your home to alert you in case of emergency gas leakages. Never make the mistake of ignoring the carbon monoxide alarm. The scenarios that accompany the alarm sound determine whether you need to contact your local fire department or gas fitting professionals. If the household members exhibit symptoms when the alarm goes off, vacate the house and seek medical assistance as well as call for help from your local gas fitting experts to identify the cause of the problem.
- Knowing the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning is important in protecting your household members from developing associated health complications. If you can tell the differences between carbon monoxide poisoning and other conditions that present similar symptoms you can save your family from health consequences of prolonged carbon monoxide exposure.