By Jeffrey Snedeker, MD
A momentary distraction from watching a child is all it takes for a youngster to become a victim of an accidental poisoning.
Data from the U.S. Poison Control Centers show youngsters six-years-old and younger account for just under half of all accidental poisoning each year. Toddlers that are age three and younger have the highest risk for poisoning of all children. Cosmetics, cleaning materials, pain medications and personal care products lead the list of the most common substances involved in pediatric accidental poisoning.
Inspect your house, make a list
Every household with children should inspect their houses and list materials that could cause an accidental poisoning. Also make or encourage inspections where children regularly spend time – such as a grandparent’s house.
Give particular attention to the kitchen, bathroom, garage and basement where materials most often involved in childhood poisoning are frequently kept. Secure those items so they are safely away from youngsters. Secure means under lock. Child-proof latches provide insufficient protection. Putting dangerous materials on a high shelf won’t deter a curious child.
Whenever possible use just one area of the house such as locked room, cupboard or closet for storing these hazardous materials.
Avoid keeping prescription and over-the-counter drugs on kitchen and bathroom counters. This common practice puts medications in easy reach of youngsters. A grandparent’s pill dispenser left on a table poses a particular risk to visiting grandchildren. Reduce poisoning risks by safely discarding unused and expired medications. In Tompkins County, most police departments have collection boxes for unwanted drugs. Call 2-1-1 during weekday business hours for details.
Set a good example
A good practice for adults is to take personal medication privately so children do not learn to mimic the behavior and take medicine on their own. Never call medicine “candy” as an incentive to get a child to take a medication.
Storing drugs, household chemicals
Always store medication, cosmetics and cleaning solutions in their original containers. That assures the contents are known and in the event of an accidental poisoning the ingredients can be easily assessed. Never store chemicals in empty soda bottles, cups or food containers. That can pose a risk for children and others who might assume the contents in the familiar food or beverage container is safe to consume. As a precaution, keep childproof caps on all medicine and household chemical containers and lock them in a secure place.
Explaining the risks
If you are using hazardous materials when children are present, explain the potential dangers, but be careful not to make the exposure seem intriguing. Set firm rules such as requiring adult supervision when a child uses paints or detergents.
What to do if poisoning is suspected
If you think a child has been poisoned but they are awake and alert, call the poison control center at 1-800-222-1222. Make the call even before calling a doctor because the poison control center operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week and has specific information on what to do. Put the poison control center phone number or near every telephone in your home and program it into your cell phone.
Call 911 if you have a poison emergency and your child has collapsed or is not breathing.
Rehearsing an emergency
Just as families are encouraged to have fire drills, the same type of rehearsal can be critically important in a case of accidental poisoning. Make a list and periodically review it so you know the steps to follow if poisoning is suspected. You will need to assess the situation, attempt to identify what may have been ingested and call the poison control. The center will need information on the victim’s age, medical issues, allergies, current medications and symptoms of poisoning.
Have the container of the suspected chemical or medication involved in the poisoning ready so you can provide information on the ingredients. If you are told to go to a hospital, take along the container.
An excellent website for protecting children from accidental poisoning and many other childhood health issues is operated by the American Academy of Pediatrics at http://www.healthychildren.org/
Dr. Snedeker is board certified in pediatric medicine and pediatric infectious disease. He is a member of the medical staff at Cayuga Medical Center and is in practice with Northeast Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. Dr. Snedeker can be reached at (607) 257-2188.