Can You Use Adult AED Pads on a Child?

An Automated External Defibrillator (AED) is crucial when saving a life during a sudden cardiac arrest emergency. But what happens if your AED does not have the correct accessories to deliver the necessary life-saving shock? If pediatric pads are unavailable, you may have questioned, “Can you use adult AED pads on a child? Is it safe, and if so, under what circumstances?”

Explore with us how to apply electrode pads to children and infants, when it is appropriate to use adult pads on a child or infant, and what tools and resources you need to stay equipped for an emergency involving little ones.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest in Children

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 2,000 children and adolescents in the United States encounter sudden cardiac death due to sudden cardiac arrest. It accounts for 3-5% of deaths in children 5-19 years old and 10-15% of unexpected deaths in infants.

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is characterized by an interruption in the heart’s rhythm. Although SCA is relatively rare in a child or infant, it is still possible. Sudden cardiac arrest in infants/children can be caused by genetic abnormalities, certain medical conditions, or by impact to the heart like commotio cordis. 

Rescuers can help improve the chances of survival for pediatric patients experiencing SCA, but they need the proper knowledge and equipment. Unless trained or familiar with automated external defibrillators, many bystanders may not know a different pad is necessary for children versus adults. Knowing when and how to use pediatric AED pads and the difference between adult and pediatric pads can save time during an emergency and help rescuers tend to pediatric patients as fast as possible.


The Importance of Pediatric AED Pads

Pediatric electrode pads ensure that the shock level delivered during defibrillation is appropriate for a child’s size and age. Utilizing incorrect AED pads can pose several risks. For instance, using adult AED pads on a child could result in a bigger shock than necessary, potentially causing harm to the child. On the other hand, using child AED pads on an adult could lead to incorrect fit and potentially low energy, rendering the shock ineffective.

The rationale behind weakening the energy level of pediatric electrode pads is to ensure that the electric shock energy is appropriately adjusted for the child’s size and age. It is recommended that the intensity of shock delivery for small, developing hearts be set at 50 joules. This lower energy level can help protect the child’s heart and improve their chances of survival.


When to Use Adult AED Pads on a Child

If the infant patient’s chest is larger and has enough skin surface available, and they are over 55 lbs, apply adult pads as recommended – one pad placed vertically on the upper left chest and one placed horizontally on the side of the chest just below the right breast. 

Child AED pads are recommended for children under eight years old or weighing less than 55 pounds, although there may be situations where adult AED pads are the only option available. In such cases, adult pads may be used as a last resort.

Follow the steps below whether you are placing adult or pediatric pads on an infant under one or a small child who weighs under 55 lbs:

Step 1. After you begin CPR, turn on the AED and follow any prompts and instructions provided 

Step 2. Expose the victim’s chest and wipe dry the bare skin if needed 

Step 3. Follow the Anterior/Posterior illustration, attaching one pad in the center of the chest and the second pad on the back between the shoulder blades 

Step 4: Wait for instructions from the AED

It is always recommended to view the instructions on the AED pad labels as many of them have pad placement illustrations or consult with your device’s manufacturer when possible.

When emergency medical services (EMS) arrive on the scene, informing them whether adult or pediatric AED pads were used to treat a pediatric patient and the pad placement you used is vital. This information helps ensure that EMS can provide additional necessary care and intervention.

AED Models and Pediatric Options

Different AED models offer various pediatric options, ensuring rescuers can effectively use the device on young patients. Some AED models provide separate pediatric pads, while others offer opportunities for universal pads that can be used on both adults and children. 

The Physio-Control LIFEPAK CR2 and the ZOLL AED 3 both have pediatric settings to administer a pediatric shock level automatically. These devices feature a “Child Button” that can be clicked to switch between adult and child mode.

The Philips HeartStart FRx AED uses a non-expirable pediatric key that adjusts the shock level on adult pads. This AED requires rescuers to do nothing more than attach the key to the front of the AED and stand clear as the device analyzes the victim’s heart rhythm and detects a shockable rhythm.

These cost-effective solutions allow AED owners to only have one recurring purchase of adult AED pads instead of both pediatric and adult pads.

AED Training and Preparedness

Along with education on pediatric pads, AED pediatric capabilities, and performing CPR, AED training and preparedness are essential for rescuers to be able to use their devices on all possible victims, including children. Becoming a trained rescuer allows one to recognize the signs of sudden cardiac arrest, activate the EMS system, and perform CPR, potentially saving lives in emergencies among young people.

In addition to CPR and AED training, rescuers can learn the age and weight guidelines for using adult and pediatric electrode pads and the proper pad placement for each patient group. This knowledge can help ensure the appropriate shock energy is delivered to the patient. 

By understanding the differences between adult and pediatric pads, being aware of age and weight considerations, and adequately applying adult AED pads to children when necessary, rescuers can improve the chances of survival for young cardiac arrest patients. With AED training and preparedness, we can all play a role in saving lives, one heartbeat at a time. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What can I use if I don’t have pediatric pads?

A. If pediatric pads are not available, it is safe to use standard (adult) pads, ensuring that they do not touch one another. For infants under one-year-old, see the outlined steps under “When to Use Adult AED Pads on a Child.”

Q. Can you use child AED pads on adults?

A. Child pads are designed for infants and children under 8 years old and less than 55 pounds. Using child AED pads on an adult could lead to an incorrect fit due to their smaller size and potentially low energy, rendering the shock ineffective.

Q. Can you cut AED pads to fit a child?

A. It is not recommended to cut or alter AED pads in any way. This includes using a child-sized pad on an adult-sized person and vice versa. Tampering with electrode pads can lead to inaccuracy in shock delivery or harm to the victim. 

Q. Can AED pads overlap each other on a child?

A. No, AED pads should not overlap each other. Sometimes, when adult pads are placed on an infant patient’s chest, they tend to overlap. This can harm the child, which is why it is important to use pediatric-sized pads when possible and follow proper precautions if adult pads must be used. 


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