If you have a young child, keeping her safe from potential poisons can seem like a daunting task, but the risk exists sooner than many parents realize. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every day over 300 children ages 0 to 19 years are treated in the emergency room for poisoning—and two will die. Learning how to protect your children from these largely preventable poisonings, and knowing what to do if your child is exposed to a poison can mean the difference between life and death.
Drugs and medicines
Most homes have a variety of prescription drugs, over-the-counter (OTC) medicines “just in case,” and vitamins and minerals. Some of these, especially the OTCs, are packaged in brightly colored containers; many are flavored to make them taste good to young children. Fortunately, these are usually packaged in “child-resistant” bottles, but no package should be considered 100 percent un-openable by a determined child!
- Keep all medicines locked in medicine cabinets, out of reach of children.
- Follow label directions to make sure the right person is taking the right medication in the right amount at the right time of day (or night). Remember that pediatric dosing is to be determined by your child’s weight, not age. When in doubt, check with your child’s pediatrician before giving any medication.
- Turn on the light when giving or taking medicine at night and double-check the label.
- Dispose of old or unused medications appropriately and promptly.
- Never refer to medicines (or vitamins) as “candy.”
- Be aware of drugs (legal or not) others may bring into your home and make sure your child can’t get to them. This is also important when visiting grandparents, who may no longer think about childproofing.
Household chemicals and carbon monoxide
Most household cleaning supplies are toxic. Keep these chemicals out of sight, out of reach, and (hopefully) out of mind. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas found in combustion fumes that can build up to dangerous levels in a well-sealed house. CO detectors are a good investment. Other safety tips include:
- Always read the label before using any product that may be poisonous.
- Keep chemicals in their original bottles or containers—don’t use food containers for these non-food items!
- Don’t mix household products together.
- Use gloves and other protective clothing if needed, and change your clothes after cleaning before picking up small children.
- Ventilate the area you work in. Keep your children in another room if possible.
- Keep antifreeze and snow salt sealed and tucked away from children and pets.
- Learn about CO poison prevention. Have furnaces and heaters cleaned and checked yearly to reduce carbon monoxide exposure.
Plants and pesticides
Some common houseplants, such as philodendron, are poisonous if ingested. And it’s never too early to teach your children “leaves of three, let it be” to avoid the irritating poison ivy itch.
- Know what kind of plants you have in your house and yard, and which are potentially dangerous to your children and pets.
- Teach your children to have a healthy respect for spiders, insects, snakes, and other animals. As your children grow, you can help them learn which ones are dangerous.
- Family pets may pose a danger to young children, too. Don’t leave your baby or toddler alone with a pet. And handle pet medications, such as flea and tick preparations or collars, according to the instructions.
- Some botanists estimate that as much as 90 percent of wild white, yellow, and green berries may be poisonous. Teach your children to only eat the foods that you okay first.
- Follow package directions when storing or using pesticides.
Poison treatment tips
What should you do if you suspect your child has been poisoned? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the following:
Swallowed poisons. If you find your child with an open or empty container of medication or household chemicals—any non-food item—it is possible she’s been poisoned. Stay calm, but act quickly:
- If your child is unconscious, not breathing, having convulsions or seizures, call 911 immediately!
- Do not make your child vomit as it may cause more damage. Although past generations relied heavily on ipecac syrup to induce vomiting for treatment of some poisons, this is no longer recommended practice. There has been no research to indicate this is helpful, and vomiting may cause more harm. The AAP recommends disposing of old bottles of ipecac by flushing them down the toilet.
- Check your child’s mouth for evidence of the substance—have her spit out any remainders, or remove it with your fingers. Keep this material to help determine what she may have swallowed.
- If your child is not showing any truly alarming symptoms, call the National Poison Control Hotline at (800) 222-1222. Be prepared to give the following information: your name and phone number; your child’s name, age, and weight; any medical conditions your child has; any medicine (prescription or over-the-counter) your child is taking; the name of the item your child has swallowed—read it directly from the container and spell the name, if possible; the time your child swallowed the poison (or when you found her); the amount of the item you think she swallowed.
Poison on the skin. If a dangerous chemical spills on your child, remove his clothing and rinse the skin with room-temperature water for 15 minutes, and call the Poison Control hotline.
Poison in the eye. Flush your child’s eye for 15 minutes. The AAP suggests having another adult hold your child if possible while you hold her eyelid open and pour room-temperature water into the inner corner. If another adult isn’t available to help, AAP suggests wrapping the child in a towel and holding her under one arm. Call the Poison Control hotline after flushing the eye.
Poisonous fumes. If your child is exposed to poisonous fumes from a car running in a closed garage, or poorly functioning space heaters, kerosene stoves, or water heaters that use gas, take him outside to breathe fresh air. If he has stopped breathing, start CPR immediately and don’t stop until he can breathe on his own. Have someone else call 911 immediately, or if you are alone, wait until your child is breathing or after one minute of CPR.
For more information about poison prevention, go to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Poison Help website.