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Published on March 10, 2020

child getting into cabinet

How To Keep Kids Safe From Poisons

By Family Life Educators

Three-year-old Ella helped herself to the amber colored liquid in a bottle on the kitchen counter thinking it was apple juice. It was actually a cleaning product in a similar container.

Two-year-old Diego’s family was visiting his grandparents. His parents didn’t realize that Grandpa requested his blood pressure medication without child resistant caps because of his arthritis, and that he kept it on the kitchen table.

Every year, thousands of children, like the ones in these examples, require emergency treatment for poisoning. With National Poison Prevention Week starting March 15, it’s a great time to review ways to keep kids safe.

Children under age 5 have the highest risk of being poisoned. Because they can’t yet read, children are not able to distinguish between similar products like a gallon jug of blue juice and a gallon jug of windshield-washer fluid. They are attracted to the bright colors of products and product labels, and they may recognize products from TV, even if they don’t understand their uses. Some poisons have interesting smells. Children are also great imitators and like to do what they see adults do.

Types of Poisoning

  • Ingestion — eating or drinking something poisonous
  • Inhalation — breathing in poisonous fumes
  • Injection — being bitten by a poisonous animal or insect
  • Absorption — poison that is absorbed through the skin

Four Tips to Prevent Poisoning

  1. Put it away and lock it up. Keep any poisonous substance out of reach and out of sight, preferably in a locked cabinet. Pay special attention to the kitchen, bathroom and garage. Purses are a particular hazard for child poisonings. They contain things like pain reliever, hand sanitizer, mouth wash, prescription medications and make-up, all of which can cause poisoning. Purses are often left within a child’s reach. Always put poisons away immediately after use. This includes medications and cleaners.
  2. Keep the number for the Poison Control Center handy. By calling 1-800-222-1222, you will be connected to trained staff who have the most up-to-date information on most poisons. They will tell you what to do.
  3. Read the label. Know how to use any cleaning products or chemicals safely by reading the label first. Read medication labels for proper dosage and to make sure you are giving the right medication to the right person.
  4. If you don’t need it, throw it out! Periodically clean out your household products cupboard. Get rid of anything that you don’t use. Get rid of old or expired medications by taking them to a medication disposal drop off.

What if it Happens?

Things to look for include a child who is acting strangely, a spilled or empty container of anything poison, residue around or in the child’s mouth or on the teeth, an unusual smell on the child’s breath.

If the child collapses, is unconscious, or is having seizures, call 911. If the child is not showing those symptoms, stay calm. Have the child spit out anything still in the mouth. Run your fingers around the inside of the mouth to remove any other poison residue. Do not induce vomiting unless told to do so by poison control or medical personnel. Depending on the poison, vomiting can make the poisoning worse. If the poison got into the eyes or on the skin, immediately flush with water. Call the Poison Control number.

What to Say if You Call

If you do have to call the Poison Control Center, have the container from the suspected poison available. You may be asked to read the label to the staff member. Be ready to estimate how much you think your child ingested. Give your child’s age and weight, describe the symptoms, and give the estimated time of the poisoning.

Make the time – this week – to go through your whole house, including the garage, and make sure poisonous substances are secure.

A little time and effort will help keep your little ones safe.

By Patricia Bates, Family Life Educator, Women’s and Children’s Community Outreach Education, Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center

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