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Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Approximately 24 children die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide poisoning is the most common cause of accidental poisoning-related deaths and is often called "the silent killer."

What causes carbon monoxide poisoning?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous, colorless, tasteless, odorless gas that is produced from the incomplete burning of fuels that contain carbon, such as wood, charcoal, gasoline, coal, natural gas, or kerosene. Breathing carbon monoxide fumes decreases the blood's ability to carry oxygen. Low levels of oxygen can lead to cell death, including cells in the vital organs such as the brain and heart. Persons with existing health problems such as anemia, heart disease, and lung disease are especially vulnerable, as are unborn babies, infants, children, pregnant women, and elderly persons.

What are some sources of carbon monoxide?

The majority of CO exposures occur in the winter months. The most common source of residential CO-related poisoning is unvented supplemental heaters. An unvented supplemental heater is a type of space heater that uses indoor air for the heating process and vents the gases produced in the heating process out into the room. Thus, a space heater that is improperly installed or not functioning properly can introduce carbon monoxide and other toxic fumes into the room and use up much of the oxygen in the room.

Most supplemental heaters of this type use kerosene or natural gas for fuel. While newer models have oxygen sensors that shut off the heater when the oxygen level in the room falls below a certain level, older models do not have such safety features. Because of these safety problems, unvented space heaters have been banned in several states.

Other common sources of CO include the following:

What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

The following are the most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Some of the most common symptoms may include:

Carbon monoxide poisoning mimics many common illnesses such as the flu and food poisoning. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

Carbon monoxide fumes may cause death, permanent damage to the brain or heart may occur, depending on the length and severity of exposure. See emergency medical care immediately.

First-aid for carbon monoxide poisoning:

If your child or other family members have any symptoms of CO poisoning, stay calm but act quickly.

Further treatment for carbon monoxide exposure will be determined by your child's physician. Emergency medical treatment may include oxygen therapy, blood tests, chest x-ray, and a heart and neurological evaluation.

How can you protect against carbon monoxide poisoning?

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 100 people die each year in the US from carbon monoxide poisoning that comes from fuel-burning appliances such as space heaters, furnaces, ranges, and water heaters. Burning charcoal inside a house, garage, vehicle, or tent is also responsible for carbon monoxide-related deaths. Carbon monoxide poisoning is the cause of several thousand visits to hospital emergency rooms each year.

Important steps to protect against carbon monoxide poisoning include:

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