Every day in the United States, nearly 82 people die from unintentional poisoning. Another 1,941 are treated for poisoning in emergency rooms. And the nation's poison control centers report more than 2 million poisonings every year.
Those statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, tell a disturbing story. The majority of non-fatal poisonings occur in children younger than 6. But poisonings are also a leading cause of death among adults.
The week of March 18-24 is National Poison Prevention Week. It's designed to raise awareness of the dangers of unintentional poisonings. And it's a good time to learn more about how to keep your family safe.
There are 57 poison control centers in the United States. Every one has the same phone number: 1-800-222-1222. Be sure to program that number into your cell phone and home phone now. The centers are always open for you to call. They're staffed by experts. And you can call them in an emergency or if you have a question.
Medicines in the home are a major cause of poisonings. Kids can be very creative when it comes to opening containers they shouldn't. Childproof packaging alone isn't enough to protect them from the rising number of drug overdoses.
The CDC says 60,000 young children are treated in ERs each year because of drug overdoses. Kids often get into medicines when their parents or caregivers aren't looking.
Dan Budnitz, MD, MPH, is the director of the CDC's Medication Safety Program. He said parents may not be aware of the danger posed by leaving medicines where young children can reach them.
"In recent years, the number of accidental overdoses in young children has increased by 20 percent," he said.
To combat the problem, the CDC has launched a new campaign. It's called "Up and Away and Out of Sight." And here are steps the program suggests:
Poisoning in adults is a very real problem. Some people may confuse one medicine for another. This may happen if the light is not on when they reach for a medicine at night. Others may take too much. Or, they might mix medicine with alcohol. The Poison Prevention Week Council recommends that adults take these precautions:
Medicines are only one potential source of poison in your home. Many household products are dangerous, too. A poison is any substance that is harmful to the body when eaten, inhaled, injected or absorbed. They can be found in the kitchen, bathroom, garage, laundry room or anywhere else. Here are some tips that can help everyone in your home stay safer:
The American Association of Poison Control Centers, or AAPCC, offers this list. It can help make you aware of which products most often cause poisoning in children:
This list from the AAPCC can make you alert to items that most often cause problems for adults.
The most common poisons are not always the most deadly. Some of the more dangerous types of poisons are these:
Adults should take the following steps to protect children from pesticides. You should do so even if there are no young children in your household. That's because 13 percent of all pesticide poisonings occur in homes other than the child's home.
First of all, try to remain calm. Not all medicines and household chemicals are poisonous, and not all exposures result in poisoning.
The American Academy of Pediatrics offers this vital information. Keep in mind that even though it addresses poisoning in children, it is valuable for adults, too.
If you find your child with an open or empty container of a nonfood item, your child may have been poisoned. Stay calm and act quickly.
First, get the item away from your child. If there is still some in your child's mouth, make him or her spit it out. Or, remove it with your fingers. Keep it and anything else that might help determine what the child swallowed.
Do not make the child vomit. It may cause more damage. If your child is unconscious, not breathing or having seizures, call 911 right away. If your child does not have these symptoms, call poison control at 1-800-222-1222. You may be asked for the following:
If the poison is very dangerous, you may be asked to take him or her to the nearest hospital. The same may be true if the child is very young. If your child is not in danger, the poison control staff will tell you what to do at home.
Syrup of ipecac is a medicine that was used in the past. It made children vomit after they had swallowed a poison. Although this may seem to make sense, it is not a good treatment. You should not make your child vomit in any way. Do not give the syrup or saltwater or make the child gag. If you have the syrup in your home, flush it down the toilet and throw away the bottle.
If your child spills a dangerous chemical on his or her body, follow these instructions. Remove the child's clothes and rinse the skin with room-temperature water for at least 15 minutes. Then call the poison control center. Do not use ointments or grease.
Flush the eye. Hold the eyelid open and pour a steady stream of room-temperature water into the inner corner. It is easier if another adult holds your child while you rinse the eye. If you are alone, wrap your child tightly in a towel. Clamp him or her under one arm. Then, you will have one hand free to hold the eye open and the other to pour the water. Continue flushing the eye for 15 minutes. Then, call the poison control number. Do not use an eyecup, eye drops or ointment unless the poison control staff tells you go.
In the home, poisonous fumes can come from many sources: a car running in a closed garage; leaky gas vents; wood, coal, or kerosene stoves that are not working right; and space heaters, ovens, stoves or water heaters that use gas.
If your child is exposed to fumes, have her breathe fresh air right away. If she or he is breathing, call the poison control center and ask what to do next. If the child has stopped breathing, start CPR. Do not stop until the child breathes on his or her own or someone else can take over. Have someone call 911 right away. If you are alone, wait until your child is breathing or until after one minute of CPR. Then, call 911.
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