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Health Effects

Five Common Symptoms

Based on the experience gained from the pilot survey, five symptoms of CO poisoning were identified which seemed to be widely experienced by sufferers during their exposure. These five symptoms of headaches, drowsiness, nausea, dizziness and vomiting are all widely regarded as common symptoms of CO poisoning.


Figure 1 - Five common symptoms during exposure for chronic group.

Figure 1: Five common symptoms during exposure
for chronic group


Figure 1 shows that 88% of the chronic group suffered from severe headaches and 85% from drowsiness during the exposure. Over 80% experienced nausea and 78% reported feeling dizzy. 45% of the chronic group vomited regularly during the exposure. As the chart makes clear, relatively few members of the control group suffered from these health problems.

Figure 2 shows a very similar picture for those who were unconscious. However, the percentage of people who suffered vomiting (63%) during the exposure was noticeably greater than in the chronic group of sufferers (who were never unconscious). The percentage suffering from drowsiness was also a little higher.

Figure 2: Five common symptoms during exposure
for unconscious group

Figure 2 - Five common symptoms during exposure for unconscious group

Figure 3 shows the percentage of each group, chronic and unconscious, which continued to experience these same five symptoms, after the exposure ceased. This shows that severe headaches remained a problem for 61% of the chronic group and 58% of the unconscious group. 52% of the chronic group and 50% of the unconscious group continued to suffer from dizziness, while 29% of the chronic group and 33% of the unconscious group continued to suffer from nausea. 17% of the chronic group found vomiting a continued problem. Drowsiness was much more of a continuing problem for the unconscious group, with nearly 60% suffering from drowsiness compared to 37% of the chronic group.

Figure 3: Continuing symptoms, chronic and unconscious groups

Figure 3 - Continuing symptoms, chronic and unconscious groups

The conventional wisdom is that it is only high doses of CO that can cause the individual to become unconscious and create lasting health problems. Figure 3, however, suggests that this is not the case. It shows that continuing symptoms were just as likely to occur in the group of sufferers who did not become unconscious as a result of CO. This group, suffering repeated exposures over long periods of time, had symptoms which persisted and which were similar to those who were rendered unconscious by CO.

Figure 4 shows how long the different symptoms were experienced by the two groups prior to the discovery of high concentrations of CO. Interestingly, the chronic group reported experiencing symptoms for longer on average prior to discovery of carbon monoxide than the unconscious group. By contrast, on average the chronic group was exposed for less time than the unconscious group - an average of 4.3 years versus 5.5 years for the unconscious group.

This may reflect differences in the nature of the exposures in the two groups. For example, the unconscious group may have experienced very low levels of exposure followed by short (or very short) periods of high level exposure, culminating in loss of consciousness for the individuals.

Figure 4: Length of time symptoms experienced during exposure
chronic and unconscious groups

Figure 4 - Length of time symptoms experienced during exposure chronic and unconscious groups

For the chronic group, noticeable symptoms were experienced for an average of around 40% of the total length of exposure. The unconscious group experienced noticeable symptoms for only 15 to 20% of the period of exposure.

Figure 5: Length of time symptoms suffered after discovery of CO
chronic and unconscious groups

Figure 5 - Length of time symptoms suffered after discovery of CO chronic and unconcious groups

For those suffering continued symptoms after the discovery of CO, Figure 5 shows the average length of time the five symptoms persisted after the removal of the source. The length of time since the source was removed was similar for the two groups – just over 3 years for the chronic group and 2.5 years for the unconscious group.

Figure 5 shows that for those suffering from persistent symptoms, that these have continued for many months and years in some instances. In the chronic group, severe headaches and dizziness were experienced for an average of 23 months, vomiting for 25 months, nausea for 18 months and drowsiness for 16 months. Although relatively few members of the chronic group reported continued vomiting, for those who did the symptoms have tended to persist.

Likewise, symptoms have tended to persist for considerable periods of time for the unconscious group. For both groups, the average length of time that symptoms were experienced since the removal of the source was clearly influenced by the period since the source was removed. In particular, there were several respondents whose symptoms were still continuing at the time of the study, so that the period over which symptoms were experienced was the same as the time since the source was removed.

Finally, Figure 6 shows the extent to which respondents who were still suffering from the five common symptoms felt they had improved since removal of the source. On average, members of the chronic group felt that they had seen at least 50% improvement in their symptoms of nausea, vomiting and dizziness. Those suffering from headaches and drowsiness showed an average recovery of just over 40%.

Figure 6: Extent of recovery from five common symptoms

Figure 6 - Extent of recovery from five common symptoms

It is clear that, on average, the unconscious group has not recovered to the same extent. Thus the symptoms of nausea had improved by only 43% on average, drowsiness and dizziness by 36% and 33% respectively, and headaches by only 26%.


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