Carbon Monoxide Poisoning (Child)

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a gas that is produced during the burning of fuels such as gasoline, kerosene, or wood. Carbon monoxide has no color or odor. If it builds up in an enclosed area without enough ventilation, it can be poisonous to humans. It often results from poorly maintained home furnaces. It can also be caused by portable stoves or heaters, gasoline engines, and smoke from house fires. 

Babies and young children are very vulnerable to CO poisoning. Symptoms may include:

  • Irritability

  • Headache

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Dizziness

  • Drowsiness

  • Vision changes

  • Shortness of breath

A child with severe CO poisoning may have bright, cherry-red lips. His or her skin may be pale and have a blue tint. The child’s muscles may be weak. Severe CO poisoning can cause confusion, hallucinations, seizures, coma, and even death.

Never ignore symptoms of CO poisoning.

Home care

  • Your child should rest until symptoms are gone and he or she is feeling fully back to normal again. 

  • Keep your child away from smoke, especially tobacco smoke. Tobacco smoke is a source of carbon monoxide.

  • If any medicines are prescribed, give them to your child as directed.

Preventing carbon monoxide poisoning

  • Make sure there is enough fresh air in any area that has a lit fire. This includes rooms and outdoor areas with wood or gas fireplaces, fire pits, and stoves. Don't use portable heaters, stoves, grills, or gasoline engines (cars, generators) in poorly ventilated areas.

  • Have all fuel-burning appliances checked by a professional at the start of every cold-weather season. This includes furnaces, water heaters, and ovens. Newly installed heaters must be vented according to the manufacturer's specifications.  Make sure you know how to use these appliances in a way that helps prevent CO poisoning.

  • Have your car exhaust inspected regularly.

  • Install a carbon monoxide detector that meets Underwriters' Laboratories (UC) standards. Make sure it's a battery-operated or battery back-up CO detector. Replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. 

  • Contact the Consumer Product Safety Commission at 800-638-2772 or www.cpsc.gov to learn how to reduce your risk for CO poisoning.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child's healthcare provider, or as directed. 

When to seek medical advice

Get your child medical care immediately if your child:

  • Does not return to normal within 24 hours

  • Has poisoning symptoms that return

  • Is irritable or unusually fussy

  • Complains of a headache or dizziness

  • Has nausea or vomiting

  • Is very sleepy

  • Has trouble seeing or breathing

  • Has pale, blue-tinted skin

  • Has bright red lips

  • Has personality changes

  • Is confused or has memory loss

  • Has shaking (tremors), seizures, or loss of consciousness

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