Poison Prevention

When I started in pediatrics, we gave out syrup of ipecac at the well-baby check-up to the parents of every 9-month-old infant that was carried through the door. We handed out this product to parents so they'd have it on hand to give immediately to induce vomiting if their child should ever ingest a potentially dangerous substance.

Well, times have certainly changed: We no longer give out syrup of ipecac, and we discourage parents from making a child vomit after ingesting a poison. This is because the forced vomiting can actually cause even more harm to the child in many cases.

Given that March 18-24 was National Poison Prevention Week, it seems a like a good time to do a little review.

Each year, approximately 2.4 million people--more than half of them under the age of 6--swallow or have contact with a poisonous substance. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has some important tips to help you prevent and to treat exposures to poison.

How to Poison-Proof Your Home

Most poisonings occur when parents or caregivers are home but are not paying attention. Children are naturally very curious, and things happen fast, so these terrible accidents can unfortunately strike any family. The most dangerous potential poisons are

  • medicines
  • cleaning products
  • antifreeze
  • windshield wiper fluid
  • pesticides
  • furniture polish
  • gasoline
  • kerosene
  • lamp oil

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Keep potential poisons in their original packaging--and store them in locked cabinets or containers. Always lock away such products as medicines, cleaners, paints, varnishes, and pesticides in places where they will be out of sight and out of the reach of children.
    A corollary: Never store poisonous products in food or drink containers. Only store poisons in their original packages, clearly marked as "POISON."
  • If your routine changes, be even more alert than usual to poisoning risks. Be especially vigilant when there is a change in your predictable, everyday routine. Holidays, visits to and from grandparents' homes, and other special events may bring a greater risk of poisoning if the usual safeguards are defeated or are not in place.
  • Install safety latches. These latches, which lock when you close the door, should be fitted on every child-accessible cabinet that contains harmful products.
  • Make medicines sound icky/unappetizing/unappealing/unattractive. In other words, never refer to a medicine as "candy," or as any other appealing food.
  • Request child safety caps. Purchase and keep all medicines in containers with safety caps, and keep all meds out of the reach of children.
  • Discard all unused medications at regular intervals.
  • Always read the label. Check the label every time you give medicine to a child, to ensure that you're giving the right medicine at the proper dosage.
    A corollary: Never try to dispense meds in low light or when it's too dark to read the label.
  • Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Keep coal, wood, and kerosene stoves in safe working order.
    A corollary: Make sure that all smoke detectors and carbon-monoxide detectors are working properly.
  • Keep track of all button-cell batteries, which can be poisonous. Keep all devices out of reach that might contain these small button batteries. Products such as remote controls, automobile key fobs, greeting cards, and children's musical books all may harbor these tiny, toxic power sources.

What To Do if You Believe a Child Has Been Poisoned

If your child is unconscious, or is not breathing, or is having convulsions or seizures due to poison--whether through skin contact or by ingesting it--immediately call 911 or your local emergency number. If your child has mild or no symptoms but has come in contact with a poison--or if you suspect that your child may have swallowed a button-cell battery--then call your poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

Different Types and Methods of Poisoning Require Different Treatments--Immediately

  • Swallowed poison. Take the poison's container away from the child, and have the child spit out any remaining substance. Do not make your child vomit, and do not give syrup of ipecac--we now know that inducing vomiting is counter-productive.
  • Poison on the surface of the skin. Remove the child's clothes and rinse the skin with lukewarm water for at least 15 minutes.
  • Poison in the eye. Flush the child's eye by holding the eyelid open and, using a cup or glass, pouring a steady stream of room-temperature water into the inner corner of the eye for 15 minutes. Or, you can even position the child's head under the faucet so that the water flows directly into the eye's inner corner. If both the eyes have been exposed to poison, then of course do this for both eyes.
  • Poisonous fumes. Immediately take the child outside or into the fresh air. If the child has stopped breathing, first call 911 and yell for help. (Yelling "Fire!" usually gets more people to come out of their houses than does yelling "Help!") Then start cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and keep doing it. Do not stop until the child breathes on his or her own, or until someone can take over for you.

Not Just the Littlest Ones Are In Danger

Most people are naturally extra vigilant when they're with children under the age of 3 years; however, it is striking how many kids up to the age of 6 also swallow poisons. As I said above, children are curious, and things happen fast, even in the homes of the most eagle-eyed parents. I've got an inquisitive 5-year-old of my own and will be the first to admit that I need to reevaluate where some of these items are in my own home! It's a continuous process.

If you have a child 6 years of age or younger, please take a few minutes this week to look through your home while referring to these safety measures from the AAP.

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