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Question : What is a normal carbon monoxide blood level for a child? What is a safe level in the air at home?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Henry H. Bernstein, D.O., is a senior lecturer in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. In addition, he is chief of General Academic Pediatrics at Children's Hospital at Dartmouth and professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School. He is the former associate chief of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital Boston.

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May 08, 2014
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Carbon monoxide and its impact on health depends on a few things:

  • The level of carbon monoxide (CO) in the air
  • The age of the children
  • How fast they are breathing
  • How much they weigh
  • How long they are exposed

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a gas. It does not smell. It does not have color. It binds to red blood cells. This blocks oxygen from attaching to red blood cells.

CO poisoning can cause serious illness and even death. Common symptoms of CO poisoning include:

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

Normal CO blood levels range from 0.5 to 1.5%. This means up to 1.5% of red blood cells can bind to CO instead of oxygen. Levels can be as high as 2.5% without causing symptoms.

Most doctors use 10% as the mark to confirm CO poisoning in older children. Detectors go off when CO concentration is 70 parts per million (ppm) or higher. This is about the same as blood CO levels of 10%. Since 10% is still pretty low, the alarm can go off before anyone feels the symptoms.

When levels get higher than 70 ppm and stay high, symptoms can be noticed. At levels greater than 150 to 200 ppm, more serious symptoms and long-lasting damage can happen.

Most homes have a little CO in the air (between 0.5 to 5 ppm). Homes that have gas stoves can have a bit higher levels (5 to 15 ppm). These levels are very low and not dangerous.

Your child should not be breathing in any more CO than these amounts. Install a CO detector in your home. And be sure to replace the battery every time you change your clocks each spring and fall.

 

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