4.5 million over 65s at risk from CO poisoning

  • A third of pensioners (34%) think that deadly carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms will ‘get better on their own’
  • 1 in 4 pensioners (25%) wouldn’t want to ‘bother’ their GP with symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Families getting together this Easter are being urged to consider their older relatives’ carbon monoxide exposure

From headaches to nausea, the symptoms of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning are being dangerously 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.

4 million older people incorrectly think that carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms will simply ‘get better on their own’ and four in ten would delay going to the doctor with symptoms as they think they would be better by the time the appointment happens (41%). A further quarter (25%) 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.

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 older people own a DVD player (82%) than a CO alarm. A fifth (22%) who don’t have a CO alarm mistakenly believe that a smoke alarm would detect carbon monoxide’s colourless, odourless, tasteless and deadly gas. And of those that do own a carbon monoxide alarm,18% have never tested it or can’t remember when they did.

With just 5% of those aged 65 or over saying they would consider calling their children if they felt unwell, and as families across the UK get together for Easter, CO Be Alarmed! is calling on families to proactively consider their older relatives’ potential exposure to the ‘silent killer’.

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 true number is likely to be much higher as the early symptoms can easily be mistaken for flu or tiredness. The effects of carbon monoxide poisoning can be devastating, yet it is easily preventable by fitting an audible alarm.

Notes to editors

  1. The research for Carbon Monoxide Be Alarmed! was carried out by Opinium between 19/03/2018 and 21/13/2018 among 2000 UK adults aged 65+.
  2. The 4.5million figure is generated on latest ONS statistics which show that of 65.5 million people living in the UK, 11.8 million are over the age of 65. Of these over the age of 65, survey results from Opinium show that 38% of these people do not have a carbon monoxide alarm in their homes, so therefore 4.5 million are at risk
  3. According to the 2016/17 annual report from the Cross Government Group on Gas Safety and Carbon Monoxide Awareness, around 30 people die from carbon monoxide each year. The report can be found here.
  4. CO Be Alarmed! is the national campaign to reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by carbon monoxide. Since 2008, the campaign has encouraged people to install carbon monoxide alarms in their homes. The Carbon Monoxide – Be Alarmed! campaign is run by Energy UK. To find out more about the campaign you can visit co-bealarmed.co.uk
  5. Carbon monoxide is produced when fuels such as gas, oil, charcoal, coal and wood do not burn completely. The most common cause of this is when an appliance, such as a boiler or cooker, is installed incorrectly or poorly maintained. Carbon monoxide can also build up when flues, chimneys or vents are blocked.