By Roy Benaroch, MD
National Poison Prevention Week is here, highlighting ways for families to prevent poisonings in and out of their homes. Poisonings remain one of the most common causes of death and ER visits among children, though most of them are preventable with a few simple steps.
The most dangerous potential ingestions in your home are medications, insecticides, antifreeze and other automotive chemicals, cleaning products, nail-care products, and alcohol. These kinds of things need to be locked up and physically out of reach of children. You can’t depend on child-proof caps and packaging alone—kids can be clever and persistent and will get through child packaging (sometimes quicker than you!)
Even medicines that you might think would be safe—vitamins or simple painkillers—can be very toxic or deadly in overdoses. Never refer to medicine as candy or allow children to help themselves to medicines or play with the bottles. Remember that visitors to your home, like Grandma, may keep medicines in their purses. For young children even one pill can be very hazardous. Keep medicines in their original containers and safely discard old medicines or leftovers (the best way to get rid of old medicines is to bring them to a pharmacy or doctor so they can be incinerated.)
Be careful giving medication to your children. Measure carefully, using the device included in the package, in a well-lit room—and write down when the last dose was given. An overdose can occur not only when you give too much medicine, but when you give the next dose too soon. After giving a dose of medication, make sure to put the package away securely.
Pesticides and other chemicals should always be kept in the original containers. Children can be especially tempted by things kept in re-used soda bottles or cups, and a single mouthful of these chemicals can kill.
If your child does swallow something potentially dangerous, your first call should be to 1-800-222-1222, which will connect you to the nearest poison control center. (Outside the USA, ask your doctor about the best poison resources.) You’ll need to describe what was ingested and how much. Don’t try to induce vomiting or give anything else to eat or drink unless instructed to do so by the poison center. Don’t give ipecac—it may do more harm than good. The poison center will tell you if you have to go to the hospital. Follow their instructions! Call them before you call your own doctor, who may not be able to access information about the specific poisoning as quickly as a poison center.
Have you ever faced a poisoning crisis? What did you do? What do you do now to keep your kids safe? Share your stories and tips in the comments below.