Keeping Poison Away from Children
You may think child poisoning couldn’t happen to your family, but it could. In fact, a child in the U.S. is poisoned every 30 seconds. Many household products and substances can be poisonous. Three important things you can do to keep your children safe are:
Lock up all poisonous materials out of children’s reach.
Teach your children to stay away from poisons.
Be prepared for emergencies. This includes posting the poison control number (800-222-1222) near all telephones.
Helping others keep children safe
Be sure to share this information with grandparents and other caregivers to help them “poison-proof” their homes. Many caregivers are not up-to-date about poison dangers and how to avoid these dangers.
How poisonings happen
Poisonings can happen for many reasons:
Young children like to explore, often by putting things in their mouths.
Children often get into things their parents didn’t think they could. For instance, kids may be able to reach items on high counters or in open cabinets.
Children often copy adult behavior. So they might try to use a product, such as medicine, without knowing the dangers.
Children are attracted to bright colors and appealing scents. This can be dangerous, for instance, if a child doesn’t know that a lemon-scented floor cleaner is not something to drink.
Kids are at higher risk than adults of poisoning from the same amount of poison. This is because children are smaller and their bodies are affected more easily.
The tips below can help prevent a poisoning in your home.
Store toxic products and substances out of reach of children. Keep them in a locked cabinet.
Store products in their original containers. Never transfer products from one container to another, especially to food or beverage containers. This can confuse children. It can also cause problems in identifying the product in case of a poisoning.
Buy products in child-resistant packaging. But keep in mind that no container is childproof, even with a safety cap.
Buy products wisely. Choose the least toxic product for your purpose. For instance, avoid buying concentrates. They are far more hazardous than ready-to-use chemicals.
Never mix together cleaning products, especially those containing ammonia and bleach. This can produce dangerous fumes.
Read labels to find out what products are poisonous. And follow all safety precautions on product labels.
Don’t keep risky items in your purse, such as medicines and vitamins. Kids can often get into your purse.
Household products to watch out for
Following are household products that can pose a poisoning risk to children.
Medicines and vitamins
Nearly half of all child poisonings involve medicines:
Keep them in a locked cabinet out of reach of children.
Keep all medicines out of reach, even those with a safety cap.
Always close the container and the childproof cap securely after taking medicine.
Don’t leave medicines where your child can reach them. Risky spots include on the counter, in your purse, and on the nightstand.
Don’t take medicines in front of children.
Pay attention when giving a child medicine. Read the label and make sure you’re giving the correct product and dosage.
Never allow young children to take medicine themselves.
Before giving medicine to a child, make sure another family member has not already given it.
Dispose of outdated medicines safely. Don't toss them in the trash, flush them, or pour them down the drain. Instead, put liquid medicine or pills into a sealable plastic bag (crush the pills first). Add kitty litter, coffee grounds, or other material to discourage kids or pets from eating it. Then place in the trash. For more suggestions, ask your pharmacist or local waste disposal company. Or visit www.smarxtdisposal.net.
Don’t tell kids that medicines are candy. That may encourage children to eat them. This is also true for vitamins. Be especially careful with prenatal vitamins, which contain high levels of iron. Iron can be deadly to kids if they overdose on it.
Store cleaners, pest control poisons, paint, and other dangerous substances safely. Put them in a locked cabinet out of reach of children.
Take care to store dangerous substances safely in the garage as well as inside the house.
Be aware that alcohol poisoning can happen from anything that contains alcohol. This includes alcoholic drinks, mouthwash, perfumes, and even some extracts, such as almond extract.
Keep all items containing alcohol out of reach of children.
Don't keep houseplants that are poisonous when eaten, such as irises and daffodils. Check www.poison.org/prevent/plants.asp for more information.
If you do have poisonous plants in the home, keep them out of reach of children. And keep in mind that all plants are choking hazards for kids under age 3.
Explain to kids that plants are not food and should never be eaten.
Install carbon monoxide detectors in your home. Carbon monoxide is a gas that you can’t see, smell, or taste. It is a major cause of poisoning in the U.S. and it can be deadly.
Make sure fuel-burning appliances are in good repair. Carbon monoxide can be emitted from broken appliances such as gas heaters, space heaters, or ovens. Also check that fireplaces and furnaces are vented properly and inspected each year.
Be aware that carbon monoxide poisoning can cause flu-like symptoms. These include nausea, dizziness, and headache. If several members of the family have these symptoms at the same time, get out of the home and get fresh air right away. Then call 911 or emergency services.
Find out if your house has lead paint, which was often used in older houses.
If your house does have lead paint, hire professionals to remove it. Have them replace lead paint with lead-free paint.
Remove any loose pieces of paint so your child doesn’t eat them.
If you’re concerned, talk to your healthcare provider about testing your child for lead poisoning.
Preparing for a poisoning emergency
Being ready for a poisoning can save valuable time. Here are tips to help you be prepared:
Have emergency contact information available at all times:
Post the national poison center phone number (800-222-1222) near every phone in your home. Also post your home address. This can be easy to forget in an emergency.
Program emergency numbers into your phone’s speed dial.
Post emergency information on the refrigerator. Emergency responders are trained to look there. Include details on long-term medicines and medicine allergies for each family member. Also include your family’s emergency contact phone numbers.
Teach your child about poisons and how to respond in an emergency (see box below).
In case of a poisoning, know the name of the product or substance involved in the poisoning when you call poison control. If possible, have the container of the poison with you.
Teaching children about poisoning
Teaching your child about poisons and their dangers can help prevent a disaster. Tell your kids the following:
Certain products and substances can hurt them. Tell kids to never touch them.
All spills of chemicals or other dangerous substances should be handled by adults.
To memorize their address as soon as they can learn it.
How to call 911 or emergency services and poison control. Unplug the phone and have kids practice dialing.
For more information, visit www.poison.org.
May 31, 2018
Adler, Liora C., MD,Bass, Pat F., III, MD, MPH