Dangers of carbon monoxide when camping
Most people will have heard of carbon monoxide, and will know that it’s often referred to as the silent killer. Around 50 people die each year of carbon monoxide poisoning, and although not all of these people will be camping, there are many factors specific to camping and caravanning which means campers are more at risk.
What causes carbon monoxide poisoning?
Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless gas (you can’t see it and you can’t smell it), which is produced when a fuel such as charcoal or gas doesn’t burn properly because there is not enough oxygen present.
This can only happen in confined spaces; there is no danger in having a campfire in the open air or a barbecue on the beach. However, when people become tempted to take their stove inside their tent because it’s raining, or leave a gas burner lit to heat things up, carbon monoxide can quickly build up.
Car exhaust fumes can also cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
Avoiding carbon monoxide poisoning
The golden rule of camping is never to be tempted to cook inside the tent.
If additional shelter is required, think about buying a gazebo or special porch for your tent which provides protection from wind and rain, but is not enclosed.
Carbon monoxide can build up in caravans and motorhomes too even though the internal space is generally bigger, so keeping a window open while cooking is good practice. Never burn gas stoves to heat a tent, layer up with warm clothing, blankets or thicker sleeping bags if you feel chilly. Never take a barbecue into a tent, even if it appears to be just smouldering embers.
Carbon monoxide is known as the silent killer as often the initial symptoms can be easily confused with other illnesses. Feeling dizzy, drowsiness, headaches or nausea could be caused by many different things but unlike other illnesses such as flu, carbon monoxide poisoning won’t raise your temperature. Children will be more affected by levels of carbon monoxide in the air than adults, and need to breathe in less for it to prove fatal. You may also notice in more milk cases that your headache, nausea and tiredness seems to disappear when you are away from your tent or motorhome and that you feel better. Being aware of the causes of carbon monoxide poisoning and knowing the symptoms will help you quickly pick up on what might be happening if you start to feel ill.
Prevention is always better than cure, so never cook or burn gas stoves in poorly-ventilated, confined spaces. If you do suspect that you or family members are showing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, get everyone into the fresh air as quickly as possible, switch off all cookers and heaters, move the barbecue away from the tent and caravan and open all windows and pin tent flaps open. If symptoms are more serious, you will need to seek urgent medical attention as carbon monoxide poisoning can be fatal. Call 999 and get an ambulance. Long term complications are possible with carbon monoxide poisoning, so always get checked over if you think you may have been exposed to carbon monoxide when camping.