Health warning about carbon monoxide poisoning

The NSW Poisons Information Centre (NSWPIC) has issued a grave warning about the dangers of using outdoor heaters and barbeques inside.

It comes after six people were hospitalised with suspected carbon monoxide poisoning this week, including a 13-year-old who was admitted to The Children’s Hospital at Westmead.

The incident is one of more than 70 calls made to the NSWPIC relating to carbon monoxide exposures this year alone. Of these, 58 calls resulted in those affected being hospitalised for assessment and treatment.

Carbon monoxide is a clear, odourless and tasteless gas that is extremely toxic. It is produced when any fuel, like that produced by barbeques, charcoal briquettes and coal burners, is burnt in an enclosed area and there is not enough air to burn the substance cleanly.

Dr Darren Roberts, Medical Director of NSWPIC, said health authorities have observed an alarming increase of notified cases and emergency department presentations related to carbon monoxide poisoning over the past five years.

Some of these incidences have seen entire families exposed to the chemical.

“Most incidents we hear of are from people using these burning apparatuses inside at night for heat during winter,” Dr Roberts said.

“It may seem like a simple and practical solution when you are feeling cold, but unfortunately it can have serious consequences including death.”

The symptoms for carbon monoxide poisoning are generally non-specific and can include headache, nausea, vomiting and dizziness.

Prolonged exposures can also cause loss of consciousness, seizures, and in some instances, permanent brain damage or death.

The advice from experts is simple, never use BBQs or outdoor heaters indoors.

“To protect your family, it is vital to never burn barbeque coals indoors or in enclosed spaces. Barbeques and outdoor heaters should only be used outside, in a well-ventilated area," Dr Roberts said.

How to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Ensure barbeques and outdoor heaters are used outside.
  • Only use approved indoor heaters inside for warmth and have these serviced at least every 2 years by a registered gas fitter.
  • Leave coals from BBQs, heaters and bonfires outside.
  • If using a generator, make sure it’s outlet is positioned away from the house.
  • Do not leave a car running in a garage or car park, even if the garage door is open.

For more information on carbon monoxide poisoning, visit the NSW Health website

 For advice on any suspected or confirmed carbon monoxide poisoning, call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26. In an emergency, dial triple zero (000) for an ambulance and seek medical help.