A study funded by the CO Research Trust has revealed that the most important factor in diagnosing carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is a high level of suspicion by the healthcare professional who treats them once they arrive in an Emergency Department (ED).

Baroness Finlay, Chair of the CO Research Trust said. “The Emergency Department is a highly pressured, time-sensitive environment where healthcare professionals have to triage and diagnose patients quickly. Determining CO poisoning as a possible cause of illness is difficult, although the COMA* acronym has raised awareness amongst ED staff. The symptoms of CO poisoning are not always obvious, particularly for low levels of exposure. And symptoms of CO poisoning can be similar to those produced by many other non-fatal conditions, such as food poisoning and flu.”

CO poisoning does not cause a high temperature, others in the household often also have some symptoms which get worse with prolonged exposure and may improve in fresh air. The study recommends that screening for CO poisoning should take place for patients in the ED where there is clinical suspicion of exposure.

The research was carried out by St George’s, and Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals and Frimley Health Foundation Trust and aimed to reduce misdiagnosis of CO exposure so that patients can be treated appropriately and not sent back to the site of exposure before it is safe to do so.

As part of the research, all patients presenting at the hospital ED with specific symptoms such as chest pain, headache, or seizures, completed a health questionnaire. Those patients with raised COHb levels whose answers suggest possible CO poisoning, had a registered gas engineer sent to investigate the scene of the suspected exposure.

It is hoped the findings of the research will go some way to establishing a more accurate estimate of the prevalence of CO poisoning in the UK, resulting in correct diagnosis and treatment for those affected.

On Thursday 17th March, lead researcher Professor Heather Jarman will be presenting the findings of the study, as part of the CO Research Trust lecture series.

To sign up to the presentation, please click here.

*COMA – There are four key questions that should be asked to help diagnose domestic carbon monoxide poisoning. These questions can be remembered using the acronym COMA:

  • C for Co-habitees and co-occupants – is anyone else in the house affected (including pets)?
  • O for Outdoors – do your symptoms improve when out of the house?
  • M for Maintenance – are heating and cooking appliances properly maintained?
  • A for Alarm – do you have a carbon monoxide alarm?

The answers given for each question should raise or lower suspicion of poisoning by carbon monoxide.

- Ends -

Notes to editors

About the CO Research Trust

The CO Research Trust is a registered charity which was established in 2005. The vision of the charity is a world where people are not exposed to carbon monoxide (CO).

For more information please contact.

Natalie Fleck

CO Research Trust



Follow us: @COResearchTrust

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