Carbon Monoxide - CO Can Be Deadly for Children

According to Dr. Marc Bayer, Medical Director, Connecticut Poison Control Center, carbon monoxide can cause neurological problems, learning disabilities and developmental trouble in children and can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth for women exposed during pregnancy.

"The increased danger the very young face from carbon monoxide is due to higher oxygen requirements for smaller bodies. Because children have faster metabolic rates than adults, they require more oxygen for vital organs such as the brain and the heart. Since carbon monoxide interferes with oxygen delivery, it can lead to damage to an infant's developing nervous system," said Bayer.

According to "American Family Physician", November 1, 1993, carbon monoxide is especially dangerous to the unborn. The fetus is extremely vulnerable to carbon monoxide poisoning for three reasons.

First, carboxyhemoglobin (the compound formed by carbon monoxide in the blood stream) in the mother's blood decreases the amount of oxygen released to the fetus. Second, hemoglobin in the fetus has a higher affinity for carbon monoxide than does adult hemoglobin. Lastly, fetal levels of carbon monoxide will continue to rise after the mother's levels have peaked and begun to fall, taking longer for the fetus to eliminate the noxious gas from its bloodstream.

In these situations, the mother may recover completely, but the fetus may be stillborn or suffer serious brain damage, according to the American Gas Association's "Revised Abstract and Health Effects" Section, 1988.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can have significant fetal effects. CO causes fetal tissue hypoxia by decreasing the release of maternal oxygen to the fetus, and by carbon monoxide crossing the placenta and combining with fetal hemoglobin, which has a 10 to 15% higher affinity for CO than adult hemoglobin. Elimination of carbon monoxide is also slower in the fetus, leading to an accumulation of CO. The level of fetal morbidity and mortality in acute carbon monoxide poisoning is significant, so despite maternal wellbeing, severe fetal poisoning can still occur. Due to these effects, pregnant patients are treated with normal or hyperbaric oxygen for longer periods of time than non-pregnant patients.

"It has been my experience that unborn babies are more sensitive to carbon monoxide due to the persistence of fetal carboxyhemoglobin in their blood. Fetal hemoglobin, as opposed to the adult type, binds carbon monoxide with a much greater affinity. This substantiates the findings of medical investigators who have found a higher percentage of spontaneous abortions, fetal demise in utero, and birth defects in children of mothers exposed to seemingly low levels of carbon monoxide during pregnancy," said Bayer.

Diagnosis is usually performed by measuring levels of carbon monoxide found in the blood. This can be determined by measuring carboxyhemoglobin, which is a stable complex of carbon monoxide and hemoglobin that forms in red blood cells. Carbon monoxide is produced normally in the body, establishing a low background carboxyhemoglobin saturation. Carbon monoxide also functions as a neurotransmitter. Normal carboxyhemoglobin levels in an average person are less than 5%.

Serious toxicity is often associated with carboxyhemoglobin levels above 25%, and the risk of fatality is high with levels over 70%. Still, no consistent dose response relationship has been found between carboxyhemoglobin levels and clinical effects. Therefore, carboxyhemoglobin levels are more guides to exposure levels than effects as they do not reliably predict clinical course or short- or long-term outcome.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is the most common type of fatal poisoning in France and the United States. It has been estimated that more than 40,000 people per year seek medical attention for carbon monoxide poisoning in the United States. In many industrialized countries, carbon monoxide may be the cause of greater than 50% of fatal poisonings. In the U.S., about 200 people die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning associated with home fuel-burning heating equipment. The CDC reports, "Each year, more than 500 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning, and more than 2,000 commit suicide by intentionally poisoning themselves." - Advanced training and support for novice teen drivers.
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Carbon Monoxide Detectors w/ PPM Displays and Battery Backup

Although all home carbon monoxide detectors use an audible alarm signal as the primary indicator, some versions also offer a digital readout of the CO concentration, in parts per million.

Typically, they can display both the current reading and a peak reading from memory of the highest level measured over a period of time.

The digital models offer the advantage of being able to observe levels that are below the alarm threshold, learn about levels that may have occurred during an absence, and assess the degree of hazard if the alarm sounds.

They may also aid emergency responders in evaluating the level of past or ongoing exposure or danger.