|Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas that is commonly produced by fires, automobile exhausts, or charcoal, kerosene and gas stoves, furnaces or space heaters. With proper ventilation, these sources of carbon monoxide usually don't lead to any problems, but in poorly ventilated areas or with faulty ventilation, carbon monoxide levels can build up and cause symptoms. Carbon monoxide poisoning kills almost 300 people in the United States each year.
The most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, nausea, vomiting, weakness and dizziness. These symptoms are produced because carbon monoxide interferes with the delivery of oxygen in the blood. With prolonged exposure, symptoms can include difficulty thinking and confusion, slurred speech, visual changes, fainting, seizures, trouble breathing, heart arrhythmias, low blood pressure, coma and even death. Children can have more severe symptoms at lower levels of carbon monoxide poisoning than adults. Infants may just be more irritable or lethargic.
It can be easy to diagnosis a child as having carbon monoxide poisoning if he is found in an enclosed area with poor ventilation and a source of carbon monoxide, such as a running automobile in a locked garage, or after a house fire, but can be more difficult if the source is a faulty gas stove or furnace, etc. You should also suspect carbon monoxide poisoning if other family members have similar symptoms, if the symptoms only occur in the house, or in the car, etc., and you have a source of carbon monoxide, including any type of fuel burning appliances, in your home.
Testing includes obtaining a blood carboxyhemoglobin concentration.
Treatments, in addition to making sure the child is breathing well, includes removing the child from the source of carbon monoxide, administering 100% oxygen, and for severe intoxication, using a hyperbaric oxygen chamber.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can be prevented by not exposing your child to sources of carbon monoxide in poorly ventilated areas. Specifically, do not use a charcoal grill indoors, leave a car running in the garage, or use an unvented space heater. Also, have your home heating equipment and chimney inspected each year.
A carbon monoxide detector can alert you to the presence of carbon monoxide in your home, before it has a chance to build up to a level that can cause symptoms.
You should call your local poison control center if you suspect that your child may have been exposed to carbon monoxide. However, if your child has any symptoms, then you should instead activate your local emergency services (911, etc.).
Carbon Monoxide Internet Resources:
- Protect Your Family and Yourself from Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, with a discussion of preventing carbon monoxide poisoning and how to choose a carbon monoxide detector.
- Carbon Monoxide: from the Chimney Institute of America, with a discussion of carbon monoxide poisoning, levels and symptoms, and preventing problems by 'the regular maintenance of home heating systems and their chimneys in order to keep "the silent killer" at bay'.
- Carbon Monoxide Questions and Answers: from the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, with a discussion of preventing carbon monoxide poisoning and using a carbon monoxide detector.