Small amounts of carbon monoxide (CO), a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas, are found in the air we breathe each day. However, inhaled in high concentrations it can cause illness and death because it blocks the ability of the blood to take up oxygen. It is known as a “silent killer”.
CO is heavy and collects in the air closer to the ground where children play. In addition, babies and small children are more prone to CO poisoning because they breathe faster. This means that a baby or child may be the first person in the home to show signs of CO poisoning when it is in the air.
Carbon monoxide fumes are produced by engines and motors that run on oil, gas, propane, kerosene, charcoal or wood. This is especially true when these engines and motors run inside closed spaces, such as inside a home or garage.
Common items that can produce CO fumes include motor vehicles, stoves, space heaters, furnaces, hot water heaters, fireplaces and grills. Cigarette smoke also contains carbon monoxide. Children who breathe in cigarette smoke breathe in CO and other harmful chemicals.
Signs of CO poisoning (depending on the amount inhaled):
- Feeling dizzy, nervous or confused
- Blurred vision
- Upset stomach or vomiting
- Fast breathing
- Feeling weak or sleepy
- Chest pain or trouble breathing
- Trouble thinking or moving
- Passing out
- Breathing and heart beat to stop completely
First aid treatment includes moving your child and everyone else in danger of inhaling CO outside into fresh air. Then call 911 right away. You cannot treat carbon monoxide poisoning at home.
Prevention at Home
- Have fuel-burning devices cleaned and checked regularly. This may include items like your furnace, hot water heater, fireplace and chimney, space heater or stove.
- Install a CO detector near your bedrooms and check the batteries regularly.
- Use vented gas appliances, such as space heaters.
- Do not use portable heaters or grills that burn fuel, such as propane or charcoal, in closed areas like camping tents or inside your home.
- Do not allow smoking inside your home or car.
- If you have a problem with carbon monoxide in your home, do not stay in your home until your fire department or utility company tells you that it is OK to return.
- Have your vehicle’s exhaust system checked regularly.
- Do not run a vehicle or other gas motor in closed areas, such as inside the garage−even if the door is open.
- Never sleep in a vehicle with the engine running.
- Do not operate a vehicle when you smell exhaust fumes in that vehicle.
Call 911 if your child is showing any signs listed above in the “Signs of CO poisoning” section such as headache, sleepiness, dizziness, or confusion.