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Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jun 5, 2024.

What is carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning?

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.

Where is CO found?

What are the signs and symptoms of CO poisoning?

Signs and symptoms may develop right after CO exposure, or several weeks later. Children often show signs of CO poisoning sooner than adults. Your child may have any of the following:

How is CO poisoning diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will examine your child and ask about his or her symptoms. Tell the provider if anyone in your home has similar signs and symptoms. Pets may also show similar signs. Your child's healthcare provider will also need to know if your child was unconscious from the poisoning. Tell him or her if you use home heating devices that burn gas, oil, wood, or other fuel. Your child may also need blood tests to check for problems caused by CO poisoning. His or her breath may be tested for the amount of CO it contains. Your child's heart rhythm and brain function may also be monitored.

How is CO poisoning treated?

What should I do if I think my 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:

What can I do to prevent CO poisoning?

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

When should I call my child's doctor?

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. 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.

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