How to protect your family from poisonings in the home

March 12, 2012

Toddler grabbing cleaning products from under the sink

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.

The poison control center is always there for you

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.

Keep drugs up and away from children

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:

  • Put all medicines and vitamins up and away – out of reach and out of sight. Children are curious and put all sorts of things in their mouths. So pick a storage place in your home that your child cannot see or reach. Find the safest place to keep your medicines and vitamins.
  • Put medicines and vitamins away every time. This includes those you use every day. Never leave them on a kitchen counter or a sick child's bedside. Put them away even if your have to give the medicine again in a few hours.
  • Hear the click to make sure the safety cap is locked. Always relock the cap on a medicine bottle. If the bottle has a locking cap that turns, twist it until you hear the click. Even though many medicines have safety caps, children may be able to open them. Every medicine and vitamin must be stored out of children's reach and sight.
  • Teach your children about medicine safety. Teach them what medicine is. Tell them why you must be the one to give it to them. Never tell children medicine is candy to get them to take it.
  • Tell your guests about medicine safety. Ask visitors to keep purses, bags and coats with medicine in them up and away, too.
  • Be prepared in case of emergency. Call your poison control center right away if your think your child has gotten into medicine.

Take steps to prevent drug poisoning in adults, too

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:

  • Turn on a light at night. Put on your glasses to read the label when you need to take a medicine.
  • Always read the label and follow instructions. If you have any questions, ask your doctor.
  • Never mix medicine and alcohol.
  • Never take more than the prescribed dose.
  • Never borrow a friend's medicine or take old medicines.
  • Tell your doctor what other medicines you are taking. It can prevent dangerous drug interactions.

Smart housekeeping rules can help prevent poisonings

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:

  • Use child-resistant packaging properly. Close the container tightly after each use.
  • Keep all chemicals locked up and out of sight.
  • When products are in use, never let young children out of your sight. Take the child or product with you if you have to answer the phone or doorbell.
  • Keep all products in their original containers. Pouring lighter fluid for a cookout into a soft drink bottle can cause serious trouble.
  • Leave the original labels on all products and read them.
  • Do not put decorative lamps and candles with lamp oil where children can reach them. Lamp oil is very toxic.
  • Always leave the light on when giving or taking medicine. Check the dose every time.
  • Don't take medicine in front of children.
  • Clean out the medicine cabinet regularly. Safely dispose of unneeded or old medicines.

What are the most common causes of poisoning in children?

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:

  • Cosmetics such as perfume or nail polish
  • Personal care products such as deodorant and soap
  • Cleaning products, such as detergent and floor cleaners
  • Pain medicines
  • Foreign bodies and toys including silica gel packages to remove moisture in packaging and glow products
  • Lotions and creams such as diaper rash products, hydrogen peroxide, acne preparations and calamine lotion

What are the most common causes of poisoning in adults?

This list from the AAPCC can make you alert to items that most often cause problems for adults.

  • Pain medicines, whether over-the-counter, prescribed or illegal
  • Medicines to reduce anxiety, help you sleep or treat mental illness
  • Household cleaning products
  • Medicines to treat depression
  • Medicines to treat heart disease
  • Alcohol

What are the most dangerous poisons?

The most common poisons are not always the most deadly. Some of the more dangerous types of poisons are these:

  • Antifreeze and windshield washers
  • Some medicines
  • Drain openers, oven cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, and rust removers
  • Fuels such as kerosene, lamp oil, gasoline, and tiki-torch oil
  • Pesticides, or bug killers

Help prevent pesticide poisoning

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.

  • Always store pesticides away from children's reach. Put them in a locked cabinet or shed.
  • Read the label first and follow directions to the letter.
  • Before using the pesticide, remove children and their toys from the area. Keep them away until it is dry or as recommended on the label.
  • Never leave pesticides unattended when you are using them.
  • Never put pesticides into other containers.
  • Use child-resistant packaging properly. Close it tightly after use.
  • Tell others, especially grandparents and caregivers, about the hazard.

What should you do in the event of a poisoning?

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.

Swallowed poison

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:

  • Your name and phone number
  • Your child's name, age, and weight
  • Any medical conditions your child has
  • Any medicine your child is taking
  • The name of the item your child swallowed. Read it off the container and spell it.
  • The time your child swallowed the item.
  • The amount your think was swallowed.

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.

Important information about syrup of ipecac

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.

Poison on the skin

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.

Poison in the eye

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.

Poisonous fumes

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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