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How To Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a toxic gas that is a by-product of appliances, heaters, and automobiles that burn gasoline, natural gas, wood, oil, kerosene, or propane. It has no color, no taste, and no odor.

When your child breathes CO, it harms the ability of his blood to transport oxygen. Although everyone is at risk for CO poisoning, it is particularly dangerous for children because they breathe faster and inhale more CO per pound of body weight.

Symptoms of CO Poisoning:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Fainting

Effects of Persistent CO Exposure:

  • Personality changes
  • Memory loss
  • Severe lung injury
  • Brain damage
  • Death


The largest group that suffers from CO poisonings are homeowners. You can reduce your family’s exposure to CO by following the recommendations below.

Fuel-Burning Appliances

  • Forced-air furnaces should be checked by a professional once a year or as recommended by the manufacturer. Pilot lights can produce CO and should be kept in good working order.
  • All fuel-burning appliances (eg, gas water heaters, gas stoves, gas clothes dryers) should be checked professionally once a year or as recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Gas cooking stove tops and ovens should not be used for supplemental heat.

Fireplaces & Woodstoves

  • Fireplaces and woodstoves should be checked professionally once a year or as recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Check to ensure the flue is open during operation. Proper use, inspection, and maintenance of vent-free fireplaces (and space heaters) are recommended.

Space Heaters

  • Fuel-burning space heaters should be checked professionally once a year or as recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Space heaters should be properly vented during use, according to the manufacturer’s specifications.

Barbecue Grills/Hibachis

  • Never use barbecue grills or hibachis indoors.
  • Never use barbecue grills or hibachis in poorly ventilated spaces such as garages, campers, and tents.

Automobiles/Other Motor Vehicles

  • Regular inspection and maintenance of the vehicle exhaust system are recommended. Many states have vehicle inspection programs to ensure this practice.
  • Never leave an automobile running in the garage or other enclosed space; CO can accumulate even when a garage door is open.

Generators/Other Fuel-Powered Equipment

  • Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations when operating generators and other fuel-powered equipment.
  • Never use a generator inside homes, garages, crawlspaces, sheds, or similar areas. Deadly levels of CO can quickly build up in these areas and can linger for hours, even after the generator has shut off.


  • Be aware that CO poisoning can mimic symptoms of sea sickness.
  • Schedule regular engine and exhaust system maintenance.
  • Consider installing a CO detector in the accommodation space on the boat.
  • Never swim under the back deck or swim platform as CO builds up near exhaust vents.

Additional Resources:

Last Updated
Adapted from Pediatric Environmental Health, 3rd Edition (Copyright © American Academy of Pediatrics 2011)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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