Did you know that more than 1.2 million children under the age of six swallow or come into contact with a poisonous substance every year? And that’s only the known and reported cases! As we have discussed before, a large portion of pediatrics is in prevention of illnesses, and poison prevention can be an easy way to reduce harm to your child. Today, we will talk about what is poisonous, some basic strategies on storage of medicines and other chemicals, as well as what to do if your child does ingest or get exposed to a poison.
First, let’s talk about what some potential poisons are and where they are most likely to be found. First are medications. Prescription medicines are very common in homes, especially elderly, and can be among the most dangerous. One of the most serious cases of medicine poisoning I saw was while in my residency, and involved an 18 month old child that ingested several different types of blood pressure and depression medications and had to be monitored in the ICU for days. When asked about the location of the medications, we found out they were “kept” on an end table by a recliner for easy access by grandma! But, other non-prescription medications are potentially dangerous as well. Ibuprofen, aspirin, acetaminophen, vitamins, cold and cough medicines are all possibly dangerous when ingested by a child. But medicines aren’t the only danger. Paint, varnishes, cleaning supplies, and pesticides count, as does gasoline and other car care products. Other poisons include mothballs, weed killers, pest killers and older medications such as oil of wintergreen and camphor -based oils, and fumes from chemicals, space heaters or stoves.
So what now? Putting child safety locks on the cabinets is good enough right? No! You know as well as I do that toddlers are quite amazing and how many times have you walked into your kitchen and found a “child-proofed” cabinet wide open? My best recommendation is to completely remove all of the above objects from reach. That means putting them in the garage or a high cabinet or the top of the closet and not under the sink. Also, when it comes to medicines, try to avoid calling medicine “candy” in an effort to get your child to take it. This opens the door for increased ingestion. Also, be aware of where you child is being cared for. While grandparents and other caregivers are a wonderful asset to have, the risk of accidental ingestion is increased at these locations.
OK, my child just took a swig of bleach or took a few baby aspirin that were lying on the counter. I am totally freaking out! What do I do? If your child is unconscious, not breathing, or possibly having a seizure, then call 911 immediately. Do not give ipecac or any other medicine to induce vomiting. If it is a spill on the skin or in the eyes, then remove any clothing or hats and rinse for fifteen minutes under tepid water. Do not apply any lotions or medicines to the skin or eyes. If it is an inhalation, then take your child outside into fresh air immediately and observe for respiratory distress. If your child is OK, then call 1-800-222-1222, which is the Poison Control Center. They will ask you lots of questions about what your child took, so it is helpful to have the medication bottle in front of you. Sometimes, they will give advice over the phone, sometimes they will advise to go to the emergency department. Good luck and be vigilant!