Two-year-old Ethan’s mom was about to take her prenatal vitamin when the doorbell rang. She left the open container on the kitchen counter for just a minute. Ethan managed to reach the vitamins and swallowed several by the time his mom returned.
Three-year-old Lauren knows what a bottle of soda looks like and how to open one. Unfortunately, her dad put gasoline in a soda bottle in the garage, to use for small cleaning projects, and Lauren found it.
The Anderson family was visiting Grandma and Grandpa and didn’t realize that prescription medications were kept on the kitchen table.
Five-year-old Jack helped himself to the amber-colored liquid in a bottle, thinking it was apple juice. It was actually a cleaning product in a similar container.
Every year, thousands of children require emergency room treatment for poisonous ingestion. Many more are treated by their family physician.
Most poisonings occur when a family’s everyday routine is interrupted: company in the home, illness in the family, visiting Grandma and Grandpa, a holiday, moving. Many poisonings occur when the substance is being used.
To prevent child poisonings, parents and caregivers need to be properly informed.
Why are young children especially vulnerable to poisoning?
- Babies and toddlers learn first through their mouths. They put everything into their mouths.
- Young children are attracted to the bright colors of products and product labels.
- Many poisonous substances have interesting smells.
- Children may recognize a product from TV, but don’t understand what it is.
- Children aren’t able to tell the difference between similar products, like a gallon of blue juice and a gallon of car windshield cleaner.
- Children are great imitators and like to do what they see adults do.
Poison Prevention Tips
- Teach children to “always ask first” before eating or drinking anything.
- Keep the number for the poison control center by your telephone or programmed into your device: 1-800-222-1222.
- This number will connect you to people who have the most up-to-date information on most poisons, and they will tell you what to do.
- Have the substance with you when you call so you can read the label to the poison center.
- Be ready to give the child’s age and weight.
- Be ready to estimate how much of the substance the child ate or drank.
- Never take any action to counteract a poison without calling first. For instance, sometimes making a child vomit will make the poisoning worse.
- All medications should be “out of reach, out of sight,” preferably in a latched cabinet.
- Child-resistant caps are not childproof. Children often figure out how to open them.
- If you take medicine out and the phone or doorbell rings, take it with you. It only takes seconds for a child to be poisoned.
- Be especially cautious when you are in someone else’s home. People without children often leave medication out on the table or counter.
- Elderly people sometimes have trouble opening child-resistant containers. They may choose to get their medications without these safety features, so be careful at grandma’s house.
- Keep medicines out of cupboards containing food.
- If you keep medicines in your purse or briefcase, those items should be up and out of reach.
- Always keep medications in their original, labeled container, and dispose of expired medications promptly and properly.
Properly Taking and Administering Medications
- Adults should avoid taking their medicine in front of children.
- Never call medicine “candy” or make a game out of taking it.
- When you give medication to children, bring the medicine to the child rather than taking the child to where the medicine is kept.
- Vitamins are considered to be medicine and should be treated that way. Taking too many, especially those with Iron can be deadly for a child.
Chemicals Can Be Poison, Too
Cleaning products, fertilizer, pesticides, bleach, car products (antifreeze, windshield cleaner and gasoline), glues and adhesives are all examples of substances that can cause chemical poisoning.
- If it’s not OK to eat or drink the product, keep it out of sight and out of reach, preferably in a locked cabinet.
- Never store these substances in something other than the original container. And remember, chemicals can also cause contact poisoning, if spilled on the skin, or eye injury, if splashed in the eye.
What About Plants?
- Check online or call your county extension office for a list of dangerous and toxic plants.
- Know the names of all the plants in your home and yard, and make sure they are safe.
- When you purchase a new plant for your home or yard, check on its safety first.
- Teach children never to eat leaves, berries or mushrooms found in the yard or at the park.
We sometimes forget about common products we use every day.
- Some mouthwashes, hair dyes, cosmetics and perfumes can be a potential hazard to young children.
- Cigarette butts contain chemicals that can make a child sick and should be disposed of properly.
Breathing in Poison
Poisoning can also occur by inhaling or breathing in toxic substances.
- Keep children away from the fumes of an idling car.
- Always provide ventilation when using strong glues, paints or other chemicals, and keep children away from these areas.
- Because children have faster breathing rates than adults, they are more vulnerable to inhalation poisoning.
- As children get older, teach them about the dangers of “huffing” — purposely inhaling strong smelling fumes from substance like markers, glue, cleaning products, etc.
Parents and caregivers should use these guidelines as they check the environment. A little time and effort spent securing the poisons in your home will help keep your little ones safe.
Ideas for Poison Prevention in Your Home
How do you keep your children safe from poisonous ingestion? What tips do you have for other parents?
Safety First Series
This post is part of a “Safety First” series on children and safety. Check out these other safety-related posts: Safety First: Could Your Child’s Toys Be Dangerous? , Safety First: Using the Right Crib and Safety First: How to Protect Infants and Young Children from Suffocation and Strangulation Hazards.