Tips To Keep Kids Safe From Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Experts at the Pittsburgh Poison Center (PPC) at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC want parents to be cautious and help prevent carbon monoxide poisonings from occurring.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 500 people die each year in the United States from accidental carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Carbon monoxide exposure is the most preventable type of poisoning. Carbon monoxide is a poisonous, odorless, colorless, tasteless gas that interferes with the delivery of oxygen in the blood to the rest of the body. It is produced from the incomplete burning of fuels that contain carbon, such as wood, charcoal, gasoline, coal, natural gas or kerosene.

“Carbon monoxide is often referred to as ‘the silent killer,’” said Edward P. Krenzelok, PharmD, director of the Pittsburgh Poison Center. “Although CO problems are more common during the heating season, vehicles including boats and some other fuel burning devices are used year-round and can be sources of CO in the home during any season. Parents should be aware that the home can pose potential risks on many levels and be aware of the warning signs.”

It’s often difficult to detect symptoms because they mimic a typical flulike 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:

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


• Gas appliances and heaters in cabins or campers, pools, and spas

• Indoor charcoal grills

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

• Faulty gas water heaters or clothes driers

• 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.

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.


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