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Tips To Keep Kids Safe From Carbon Monoxide, Other Poisons

Armen Hareyan's picture

With the observance of National Poison Prevention Month this month, experts at the Pittsburgh Poison Center (PPC) at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC are advising parents to be cautious of all potential household poisons, especially carbon monoxide.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, unintentional carbon monoxide exposure accounts for approximately 15,000 emergency room visits annually, with nearly 500 people dying each year. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that interferes with the delivery of oxygen in the blood to the rest of the body. Carbon monoxide exposure is the most preventable type of poisoning. In conjunction with Safe Kids Allegheny County, the PPC is aiming to educate families and avoid accidental poisonings.

"Carbon monoxide is often referred to as the silent killer," said Edward P. Krenzelok, PharmD, director of the Pittsburgh Poison Center. "Parents should be aware that the home can pose potential risks on many levels and be aware of the warning signs. A large percentage of carbon monoxide exposures happen in the winter months due to faulty heaters and furnaces, but they can occur at any time."

It's often difficult to detect symptoms because they mimic a typical flu-like illness -- headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea and vomiting. People with more serious poisoning may experience chest pain, disorientation, shortness of breath, loss of consciousness and death. Carbon monoxide exposures can happen by:

* Leaving an automobile engine running, especially in an enclosed space like a garage.

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* An improperly vented or malfunctioning hot water heater, furnace, stove, gas or kerosene space heater, or fireplace.

* Air pollution and even smoke given off by cigarettes, cigars or pipes.

The PPC recommends homeowners use carbon monoxide alarms, which emit a deafening 85-decibel alarm when carbon monoxide is detected. They should meet Underwriters Laboratories (UL) standards, and be easily self-tested and reset to ensure proper functioning. For maximum effectiveness during sleeping hours, carbon monoxide detectors should be placed close to sleeping areas.

According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, most poisonings involve everyday household items. Almost 93 percent of all poison exposures occur in the home.

"Adults should also be aware of more obvious hazards, such as household cleaning products, cosmetics, over-the-counter and prescription medicines, alcohol and lead paint in older homes and on some imported toys," Dr. Krenzelok said. "Mr. Yuk stickers, which were created at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh 37 years ago, are an effective way to identify poisons and to create awareness of the 24/7 emergency telephone number of the center."

The PPC is one of only two poison centers in Pennsylvania and serves 44 counties of western and central Pennsylvania. Calls are answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week by highly trained clinical toxicology nurse specialists. The center serves more than 5 million residents and receives approximately 140,000 calls annually.