It happens every winter. When we start heating our homes, some homes are exposed to CO, Carbon monoxide, a real silent killer.
The CO toxic gas is a result of incomplete combustion process. In other words, there is not enough oxygen to create CO2 from burning of an organic matter. This is like the product that comes out of your car’s exhaust.
The problem is that CO is with no color, smell or physical presence, so detecting it is very difficult without proper devices. Even in relatively small concentrations, children can feel clinical symptoms. The most common is a headache and feeling tired.
Exposure of very small concentrations such as 1:10,000 particles for few hours can cause a headache. With even a few hours exposure to 1:10,000 particles of CO, children (and parents) can feel severe dizziness, nausea, and even seizures (convulsions).
Young children are at the greatest risk, since they can not report a headache, and they may just cry, or even be silent and lethargic. It is very common to mistaken these symptoms for a common virus, as we commonly see in early winter. But if everyone feels the same at home – headache, dizziness and nausea, while heating at home, CO poisoning should be considered.
Parents should be alerted to the possibility of CO poisoning, and seek help with any suspicion of the condition.
The best way to diagnose CO poisoning is to test the level of carboxyhemoglobin in a blood test. This test looks at the ratio between hemoglobin connected to CO and regular hemoglobin. We have small amounts of CO naturally, but the higher the level, the more your child was exposed to CO.
Treatment includes urgent assessment by a physician, administration of 100% oxygen, and in some cases, exposure to a special hyper-baric chamber, where the pressure is three times that of the atmosphere. This process breaks faster the very strong connection between CO and hemoglobin.
Top Tips for MedSchoolForParents.com from Dr. Goldman :
- Ensure to service your furnace once a year
- Have some windows open, even slightly, to allow some circulation of air at home and more oxygen
- Install a Carbon monoxide detector at home
- Don’t ignore symptoms of headache
- When in doubt, call someone to measure CO levels at home or go to your nearest emergency department