Pensioners at risk from carbon monoxide poisoning

Pensioners at risk from carbon monoxide poisoning
The ‘CO Be Alarmed!’ campaign shows that while 92% of people above the age of 65 have a smoke alarm only 62% have a carbon monoxide alarm that could save their lives. © CORGI HomePlan CC BY 2.0

Over 4.5 million pensioners are at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning because they don’t want to bother their GP or they don’t properly understand the symptoms, with a third believing they will get better on their own.

The symptoms of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning are being precariously confused with seasonal illnesses. Despite one person dying every other week from carbon monoxide poisoning in the UK, new research from the ‘CO Be Alarmed!’ campaign shows that while 92% of people above the age of 65 have a smoke alarm only 62% have a carbon monoxide alarm that could save their lives.

Around four million older people believe that carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms will ‘get better on their own’ and four in 10 would delay going to the doctor with symptoms as they think they would be better by the time the appointment happens.

Additionally, a quarter of people aged over 65 who are aware of the symptoms still wouldn’t want to bother their GP if they showed signs of the poisoning.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include:

  • A tension-type headache is the most common symptom of mild carbon monoxide poisoning;
  • Dizziness;
  • Nausea and vomiting;
  • Tiredness and confusion;
  • Stomach pain; and
  • Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing

A failure to recognise the potential gravity of carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms is made worse because almost 4.5 million pensioners do not have a carbon monoxide alarm installed in their homes – more elderly people own a DVD player than a CO alarm.

Avoiding carbon monoxide poisoning

Those who do not have a CO alarm believe that a smoke alarm would detect carbon monoxide and of those that do own a carbon monoxide alarm, 18% have never tested it or cannot remember when they did.

However, a smoke alarm will not detect carbon monoxide as it is:

  • Colourless;
  • Odourless; and
  • Tasteless.

Abbie Sampson, CO Be Alarmed! spokesperson and director of external affairs at Energy UK, explains: “You cannot see, smell or taste carbon monoxide and the symptoms can often be missed or confused with a cold or flu. That’s why having an audible carbon monoxide alarm fitted is so important.

“This Easter, as many families get together with older relatives, we are urging everyone to consider our ABC checklist on behalf of their older family members – do they have an Alarm, have the Batteries been tested and have they had an up-to-date gas check. Buying an alarm can be as cheap as a couple of Easter eggs but could be the difference between life and death.”

The latest data, from the Health and Safety Executive, shows that there are around 30 deaths a year from carbon monoxide poisoning in the United Kingdom.

However, the correct number is likely to be much higher as the early symptoms can easily be mistaken for flu or tiredness.

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