Is your boiler a health hazard?

Whenever the weather turns cold, one of your home’s hardest working appliances is your central heating boiler. But if your boiler is faulty it can be dangerous for your health, as it may leak a dangerous gas called carbon monoxide.

The problem is, according to a survey conducted by Certas Energy, more than half of people in this country wouldn’t spot the signs of a household carbon monoxide leak.

According to a freedom of information request by CORGI HomePlan in 2015, four people are treated for carbon monoxide poisoning in English hospitals every day. Eight-seven percent of these people require treatment, and more than one in five are hospitalised.

The Certas Energy survey – which quizzed more than 1,000 UK residents – found that eight out of 10 people know carbon monoxide poisoning can be caused by a faulty boiler. However 39 percent don’t have a carbon monoxide alarm in their home, and 58 percent say they wouldn’t notice anything was wrong with their boiler unless their heating stopped working (a fifth also said they’d never had their boiler checked to see if it was working properly and two fifths admitted they don’t have regular annual boiler checks).

Also, when it comes to the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, 45 percent of the people surveyed identified them incorrectly. The most common symptoms include the following:

  • A tension-type headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness

Silent killer

“Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless, tasteless, non-irritant and therefore undetectable gas, yet it is a killer,” says Dr Sarah Brewer from “Exposure to carbon monoxide is the most common cause of lethal poisoning worldwide and can affect anyone in a confined space contaminated with fumes.

“Mild carbon monoxide poisoning causes headache, dizziness, feeling sick or vomiting, shortness of breath, rapid pulse, abdominal pain, irritability and confusion. You may feel like you have food poisoning or flu, but without a temperature.”

According to Dr Brewer, the symptoms get gradually worse if you continue breathing carbon monoxide. But they improve when you go outside and breathe fresh air.

If you think you have been exposed to low levels of carbon monoxide, see your GP,. However if your symptoms are serious, go straight to your local hospital A&E department.

“If not detected and treated, carbon monoxide poisoning can lead to loss of consciousness and death,” says Dr Brewer. “Sadly, symptoms are often missed when carbon monoxide poisoning occurs during sleep. Fitting a carbon monoxide alarm can save lives.”

Safety checks

As well as fitting a carbon monoxide alarm – which you can buy at many pharmacies – it’s also important to look after your boiler by having it checked by a professional engineer every year, say experts at Certas Energy. The company also advises the following boiler safety checks, which you should carry out every few weeks:

  1. Look to see if your boiler has a blue or yellow flame, usually seen through a small window in the boiler. If it’s yellow, that means it’s smoking, and you should immediately turn it off and call an engineer.
  2. Look for your boiler’s pressure gauge, and using the info in your boiler manual, check whether it’s at the recommended pressure – if it’s not, call an engineer.
  3. Lastly, check for signs of damage – if there are cracks, sooty patches or strange noises coming from your boiler, turn it off and call a technician.

If you have one or more of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning but you’re not sure what’s causing them, why not have a quick chat with your local Careway pharmacist. Most pharmacies are open six days a week and you don’t need an appointment to talk to your pharmacist, who can advise you if you need to see your GP or go to your nearest hospital. And if the symptoms aren’t suspicious, they can recommend over-the-counter medicines to help you feel better.

Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.