Screening for carbon monoxide in children

Pediatr Emerg Care. 1998 Dec;14(6):399-402. doi: 10.1097/00006565-199812000-00005.


Objective: Carbon monoxide (CO), a colorless, odorless gas, accounts for the majority of fatal poisonings in the United States. To date, few screening studies that evaluate pediatric exposure are available. The objectives of this study were to determine the value of a CO breath analyzer for detecting pediatric CO exposure and to identify potential CO sources.

Design: Prospective screening study.

Setting: Emergency department of an urban children's hospital.

Patients: A convenience random sample of 470 noncritically ill children, aged five to 20 years, who presented to a pediatric emergency department and could blow into a CO breath analyzer.

Intervention: After informed consent and demographic and clinical variables were ascertained, eligible patients blew into a CO breath analyzer. Those with breath CO levels > or = 9 ppm underwent confirmatory cooximetric analysis of capillary blood. Sources of CO exposure were determined by history and a home-site evaluation by the local gas company. Patients with carboxyhemoglobin (COHb) levels of more than 5% were given normobaric 100% oxygen until their COHb levels were less than 5%.

Results: 1.9% (9/470) of patients had elevated breath CO levels and COHb levels by cooximetry. Putative sources of CO exposure were active cigarette smoking for five patients and a faulty furnace in the home for one patient. On the basis of the history, we believe environmental tobacco smoke or automobile exhaust or both contributed to the elevated COHb levels in the other three patients. There was a good correlation between COHb by cooximetry and breath analysis (concordance correlation = 0.739) CONCLUSION: Breath analysis for CO is a convenient tool to estimate exposure and identify older children at risk.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Breath Tests
  • Carbon Monoxide / analysis
  • Carbon Monoxide Poisoning / diagnosis*
  • Carbon Monoxide Poisoning / epidemiology
  • Carbon Monoxide Poisoning / etiology
  • Carbon Monoxide Poisoning / therapy
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Michigan / epidemiology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Urban Health


  • Carbon Monoxide