Every year, U.S. poison centers take over 2 million calls related to poison exposures in people, and over 50% of those calls are for children under the age of 5. The most common substances involved are painkillers, cosmetics and personal care products, and household cleaning products; and overwhelmingly, poison exposures occur in the home (over 90%).
Most incidents are resolved over the phone, but there are occasions where a child may need to be taken to the ER. For instance, more than 60,000 children under age 5 are treated in the ER each year due to accidental medication poisoning.
My little sister was one of those children years ago. Nana was visiting and had put her purse away in the bedroom closet where she’d been staying, but when little sis went down for her nap one afternoon she got into what she thought was Nana’s “candy” instead. My poor little sister ended up in the ER getting charcoal treatment and her stomach pumped. Fortunately, she came away from it unscathed, but I’m sure everyone was terrified and scarred.
This type of occurrence happens more often than you might think, and so often pills are indistinguishable from candy. I came across this cute and catchy little video that may help our kids learn that they should always STOP and ASK FIRST before they want to touch something or put something in their mouths that doesn’t belong to them:
Of course, ultimately, we don’t want our children to ever find themselves in these situations, and so poison-proofing our homes is the best prevention tool. Below are helpful tips for poison prevention as well as treatment if you suspect poisoning has occurred.
What are the potential dangers in your home?
- Bath and kitchen disinfectants and sanitizers, including bleach
- Household cleaning or maintenance products, such as drain cleaner, paints, or glues
- Automotive products stored around the home, such as anti-freeze or windshield washer fluid
- Health or beauty care products such as medicines, mouthwash, hair and nail products
- Roach sprays and baits
- Insect repellents
- Rat and other rodent poisons
- Weed killers
- Products used to kill mold or mildew
- Flea and tick shampoos, powders, and dips for pets
- Indoor or outdoor plants
- Swimming pool chemicals
- Regardless of the item of concern, keep it UP, AWAY, and OUT OF SIGHT. Even if you have items in an upper cabinet, it’s a good idea to use a cabinet lock to keep your little climbers or older children out.
- Be prepared in case of emergency. Program the Poison Control Help number, 1-800-222-1222, into your home and cell phones. If you suspect your child has ingested something dangerous, contact Poison Help right away.
- Ensure you have a working carbon monoxide detector in your home.
- If you live in an older home, particularly a home built before 1978, have your home and children tested for lead.
- Do not keep poisonous plants in your home or yard.
- Teach your child to STOP and ASK FIRST before they touch something or put anything in their mouths that does not belong to them.
- Put medicines and vitamins away every time, even between dosing.
- Always relock the safety cap. Twist until you hear the click.
- Explain to children what medicine is and that only you can give it to them.
- Never tell a child that medicine tastes like candy in an attempt to get them to take it.
- Never give a child medicine in the dark. Turn the light on and read the instructions to ensure proper dosing.
- Ask house guests and visitors to keep their coats and bags out of reach when they are in your home. Don’t put it past kids to get past child-resistant packaging (not child-proof, mind you).
- Clean out the medicine cabinet periodically, and safely dispose of any medicines such as prescriptions when no longer needed. Check with your locality as many hold take-back events as an alternative to flushing pharmaceuticals down the drain.
- Don’t throw medications away in open trash containers where a child might be able to get to them.
- Use the safest possible pesticides and cleaning products. There are many natural and nontoxic alternatives that can be found with a simple search online.
- Always store them in a locked cabinet, preferably out of reach.
- Place Mr Yuk stickers on potentially poisonous products to help your kids decipher undesirables. Information to request a free sheet or purchase more is available here.
- Remember the BEFORE, WHILE, AFTER rule: BEFORE using a product, read the instructions. WHILE using a product, never leave it alone. AFTER using a product, lock it up.
- If a spillage occurs, clean it up immediately.
- Do not transfer products to other containers, particularly containers that could be mistaken for food or drink. You will want to have the original label and instructions in the case of accidental poisoning.
- Remove children, pets, toys, bottles, and pacifiers from the area before applying pesticides inside or outside the home. Follow label directions to determine when it is safe for children and pets to return to the area.
- Choose nontoxic art supplies.
- Keep the dishwasher door closed, and only fill with detergent when ready to use.
- An open or spilled bottle of pills or cleaning product, or suspicious stains on your child’s mouth or clothing
- A burn or rash on the lips, mouth or skin
- Burns, stains, or smell of chemicals on your child or his or her clothing
- Unexplained nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Inexplicable amounts of drooling
- An unusual odor on his or her breath
- Headache, dizziness, confusion, or blurred vision - your child can’t follow you with their eyes
- Bluish lips, coughing, throat pain, or difficulty breathing
- Seizures, convulsions, or unconsciousness (in extreme cases)
- Swallowed poison - Do not try to make your child vomit. You may do more harm bringing the poison back up. Sweep your child’s mouth and remove any visible poison. Rinse out and wipe your child’s mouth with a cloth. Call poison control.
- Poison on the skin - Remove contaminated clothing, while avoiding any more contact with the chemical. Flood the skin with lukewarm running water. Wash gently with soap and water and rinse. Call poison control.
- Poison in the eye - Wrap your child in a towel with arms placed at his or her sides under the towel, and place them on a flat surface so you can control them safely. Hold the eyelid open, and drip room temperature water or normal saline over the bridge of the nose for 15 minutes. Call poison control.
- Inhaled poison - Get your child to fresh air. Open doors and windows if safe to do so. Begin artificial respiration if they’re not breathing. Call 911.
- Stings and bites - Remove the sting if present, and wash the affected area with soap and warm water. Pat dry. Call poison control.
- your child’s age, height, and weight
- existing health conditions
- substance and label information
- how the substance entered the body
- first aid given
- has your child vomited
- your location and distance to the nearest hospital
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