All children, especially when they are very young, put things in their mouths as part of learning and exploring their world. However, if they put something poisonous in their mouths, it can be very dangerous.
Each year, poison control centers gets over one million calls about unintended poisonings of children under 5 years of age from medicines and household chemicals. But you can keep your family safe by taking just a few simple precautions and helping your child learn the basics.
How Can I Keep My Child Safe?
It is impossible to keep your eyes on a young child 24 hours a day. The most common cause of poisoning is an unattended substance that is in sight and reach. The best prevention is to make sure that a child has no access to hazardous substances and poisons. Keep them locked away and out of sight.
- Your best safety tactic is extreme caution. Assume all cleaning products, substances used in the workshop or garage, and beauty products are dangerous. Invest in a large medicine cabinet with a safety lock, and put it in a place where it is not easily accessible to a child. Keep all hazardous household substances in this cupboard or locked away in the garage.
- Don’t leave medicines or poisonous products out, even temporarily. Don’t leave medicines out as a reminder to take them later. And even if the phone or doorbell rings while you’re using or putting something away, be sure to finish putting it away before you answer.
- Choose child resistant containers when buying medicines and household cleaners. And don’t let your child get into the habit of playing with them, even when they’re empty.
- Never give or take medications in the dark . Always reread the label for the proper dosage.
- Never call any kind of medicine “candy.” Don’t treat medicine as something good to eat, even if a child is reluctant to taking medicine. Because children learn by imitation, take your own medicine out of their sight.
- Check all the rooms in your home for poisons including the bedroom, living room and den.. List all hazardous substances room-by-room. Make sure they’re clearly labeled and out of reach.
- On vacation or when visiting other people’s homes, know where medicines and other potentially dangerous substances are kept. Not everyone’s home is organized with children in mind.
- Keep medicines, pesticides, and even detergents in their original containers. Store them separately from food products. Rewrite any labels that are not clearl so you know exactly what is in each bottle. Never put poisonous or toxic products in empty food containers. Ambulance and hospital staffs have seen far too many incidents of a poison in an unmarked container that was mistaken for fruit juice.
- Read the labels on all household products before buying them, and try to use the least-toxic ones. Less hazardous household products are non-chlorine bleaches, vinegar, borax, beeswax, mineral oil, and compressed air drain openers (rather than corrosive liquids).
- Keep visitors’ and your own handbag out of reach of children. And, in general, avoid carrying medicines in your pocket of handbag.
- Periodically review the expiration dates on vitamins and medications. Flush expired medicines down the toilet.
- Call your sanitation department for instructions on how to discard old paints and other old and unused chemicals.
- Allow your child to use ACMI certified arts and crafts materials such as crayons, markers, paints, clays, and glues. The Arts and Creative Materials Institute tests these products for safety. Look for the ACMI seal on the package.
- Don’t grow poisonous plants. Call your local nursery or poison center for advice.
What Should Children Know About Poison?
Babies and Toddlers
Poisoning is a problem mostly in children under the age of three. They are too young to know the difference between what is safe and dangerous. They will even climb to get something that interests them. So, although you can start to introduce safety messages to very young children, prevention and vigilance is the best defense.
It’s equally important to keep poisons away from older children, too. And by the time they turn four, children can also start to understand the things they can do to stay safe. By talking to children, and setting a good example, you can help them learn:
- Never put anything in their mouths, ears, or eyes unless they check with you first.
- Never sniff anything unless you say it is okay.
- Never put or rub anything on their skin unless you say it is okay.
- Always stay away from the medicine cabinet, under the sink, and any other places where you keep poisonous products.
- Always wash their hands after playing outside, and always before eating.
Which Substances Are Poisonous?
Many drugs and everyday household items can be poisonous, including:
- Drugs – prescription and over the counter such as cold and flu remedies, cough syrup, mouthwashes, vitamins, herbal remedies, antiseptics, antibiotics, sedatives, heart pills and more.
- Cleaning products – are all dangerous to children and include drain cleaner, oven cleaner, toilet cleaner, dishwasher and washing machine detergents, bleach, room deodorants, general cleaners, metal polish, furniture polish, and rust remover. There are so many that your best bet is to keep them all out of the way of your child. Even if a child does not ingest them, she may spray himself with them, burning her eyes or her skin.
- Cosmetics – seem harmless but they can sicken a child. Creams, ointments, shampoos, hair dye, hair removers, perfumes and aftershaves must be kept out of reach.
- Other products – such as paints, stains, turpentine, car products, batteries and gardening products are all hazardous. Button batteries can be swallowed.
- Poisonous house and garden plants – The long list includes philodendron, rue, privet, yew, laurel berries, oleander, arum lily, poinsettia, and foxglove. Berries and colored leaves can be attractive to children and harmful.
- Arts and Crafts Materials such as glues, paints, stains, and plasters have dangerous substances in them.
- Pesticides include roach, ant, rat, and mouse poison. Their sole purpose is to kill living things. Lock them away.
- Adult substances such as tobacco and alcohol can be lethal. If swallowed, one cigarette could kill a one-year old. A mouthful of whiskey could kill a toddler.
- Lead Although banned from home use since 1978, more than 300,000 children, ages 1-5 are affected by lead poisoning. The primary source of lead poisoning is from lead-based paint. If you live in an old home, have the house, soil outside, and water inspected by a reliable company for lead content. Use cold water for drinking and cooking. Run water for 15-20 seconds before using. Do not store food in lead crystal or pottery as older pieces may contain high levels of lead in their glazes. In addition, refuse cribs, highchairs, and painted furniture made before 1978.
What To Do If You Suspect Poisoning?
If your child has swallowed a harmful substance, symptoms may include:
- Tummy pain
Have the phone number for the Poison Control Center and your own family doctor handy.
Learn how to do CPR and the Heimlich maneuver.
Know the plants and trees in your garden.
Use common sense at all times.
Keep some medicine that causes vomiting – like syrup of ipecac or activated charcoal – in your medicine cabinet just in case. But don’t use it unless an expert tells you to! Some poisons can cause even more damage during vomiting.
Where to Get Help and More Information
If you have a poison emergency or a question about poisons,
in the United States, call 1-800-222-1222.
This toll-free number will put you in touch with the poison control center in your state.
If the child is unconscious, not breathing, or has collapsed, this is an emergency.
To get a free packet of poison prevention publications, write to “Poison Prevention Packet,” CPSC, Washington, DC 20207, or visit: http://www.poisonprevention.org .
The Arts and Creative Materials Institute tests and certifies which arts and crafts materials are 100% safe for children. Visit their site: http://www.acminet.org
This site lists household and garden plants that are poisonous to children. Know the plants in your home and in your garden.: http://aggie-orticulture.tamu.edu/plantanswers/
This site gives information about lead in paint, dust, and soil and what to do about it.http://www.epa.gov/lead/pubs/leadinfo.htm#checking
This is the link to the National Lead Information Center: http://www.epa.gov/lead/pubs/nlic.htm
Have Emergency Numbers handy. Print out and fill in the Emergency Sheet that follows the First Aid Guidelines. Hang it near or behind your front door. Make sure your children, babysitters, and neighbors know where it is.