Skip to Content

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Children


Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning

is a life-threatening condition caused by exposure to high levels of CO. CO is a poisonous gas that you cannot see, taste, or smell. Exposure happens when a person breathes in CO. Children are at higher risk for CO poisoning because they breathe faster than adults. This causes them to breathe in more CO. Children younger than 4 years and unborn babies are especially at risk of CO poisoning. CO can build up in your child's body and replace oxygen in his or her blood. Your child's brain, organs, and tissues can be damaged from a lack of oxygen. CO poisoning can be mild or severe. Severe poisoning can cause permanent injury or death.

Common symptoms include the following:

  • Blurred vision, dizziness, or a headache
  • Nausea, vomiting, or loss of appetite
  • Faster breathing than normal, or trouble breathing
  • Weakness, muscle pain, or dark urine
  • Chest pain, or a fast, strong, or irregular heartbeat
  • Confusion, fainting, or seizures
  • Tremors or shaking, or trouble moving, bending arms or legs, or walking
  • Difficulty speaking, chewing, or controlling facial muscles

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • Your child has chest pain or an irregular or fast heartbeat.
  • Your child has trouble breathing or is breathing faster than usual.
  • Your child faints or has a seizure.
  • Your child feels weak, has trouble moving, or has severe muscle pain.
  • Your child's urine becomes dark or red.

Call your child's doctor if:

  • Your child feels dizzy.
  • Your child has a headache or vomits.
  • Your child's eyesight becomes blurred.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Treatment for CO poisoning

may include any of the following:

  • Extra oxygen may be given if your child's blood oxygen level is lower than it should be. Your child may get oxygen through a mask. He or she may also get oxygen through small tubes placed into the nostrils.
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is used to get more oxygen into your child's body. The oxygen is given under pressure to help it get into his or her tissues and blood. Your child will be in a room called a hyperbaric chamber during the treatment.
  • An endotracheal tube may be put into your child's mouth or nose. It goes down into your child's windpipe to keep the airway open and help him or her breathe. It may be hooked to a ventilator (breathing machine). Your child may get extra oxygen through the ET tube. He or she will not be able to talk while the ET tube is in place.

What to do if you think your child was exposed to CO:

CO poisoning can seem like the flu. If you think your child was exposed to CO, have him or her checked by a healthcare provider. The following are steps to take if you believe your child is near a source of CO:

  • Move your child into fresh air. If safely possible, shut off the source of the CO. Wait for a professional to help you if you cannot do this safely.
  • Call 911. Explain when the exposure happened and how long you think it lasted.
  • Start CPR if needed and you are trained on how to do this. CPR may be needed if your child is not breathing.

Prevent CO poisoning:

  • Install a CO detector in every sleeping area in your home. Place it 5 feet above the floor and away from fireplaces or gas-burning equipment. Change the batteries twice each year. Teach your child what to do if the detector's alarm goes off. He or she needs to know how to get out of the house and where to go to find an adult.
  • Check your chimney, furnace, or wood stoves. Check for problems every year before you use them. Have your fireplace flue cleaned on a regular basis.
  • Be careful with gas appliances. Do not use barbecues or heaters that burn fuel inside your home or other closed spaces. Do not use your gas kitchen oven to heat your home. Make sure appliances are properly hooded or vented.
  • Do not let motor vehicles run in closed areas. This includes letting your car run in a garage. If the car is outside, check that the exhaust pipe is not blocked.
  • Do not let anyone smoke around your child. Cigarette smoke contains small amounts of CO. This increases your child's risk of CO poisoning if he or she is exposed to a source of CO. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you need help quitting.

Follow up with your child's healthcare provider as directed:

Your child may need to return to have more tests. He may also be referred to a specialist who can help with development problems such as learning disabilities. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2021 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Children (Ambulatory Care)

Associated drugs

IBM Watson Micromedex

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.