In 2010 more than 1 million children under the age of 6 were the victims of unintentional poisonings. Ninety-two percent of these poisonings happened at home.
Dangerous Household Products
While most parents keep dangerous products such as medicines, drain opener, and alcohol out of reach of children, they sometimes overlook common household products that can be poisonous to a small child. Toxic household products include dishwasher detergent, mouthwash, iron pills, antifreeze, and batteries. Some plants, such as rhubarb leaves and philodendron, are also toxic.
Symptoms of Poisoning
A child won’t come to you and say, “I just drank a whole bottle of cough syrup, and it tasted really good.” You need to look for other signs.
Sometimes physical evidence is pretty clear: an empty medicine bottle in the bathroom, a trail of drain cleaner on the kitchen floor. Other symptoms of poisoning might include the child’s being sleepy when it isn’t naptime, not being able to control eye movements, burns or stains around the mouth, and strange-smelling breath.
When you suspect poisoning, stay calm. If the child has difficulty breathing, is unconscious, or is having seizures, call 911 immediately. If the poison is on the skin, remove the clothing and wash the affected area with lukewarm water. Toxic substances in the eyes should be flushed with warm water. If the child has eaten something, check his or her mouth and remove any remaining substance. Don’t induce vomiting.
Then call your local poison control center. If this number isn’t posted by the phone, it will probably be on the front inside cover of the phone book. You may also call 1-800-222-1222 from anywhere in the United States.
Talking with the Poison Control Center
Poison control centers are staffed by pharmacists, nurses, doctors, and other health professionals who are trained in toxicology (the study of poisons). Be prepared to give the following information:
* Child’s age and weight
* Name of poison or description of it
* When the poison was taken and how much of it was taken
* The way poison was taken–swallowed, skin contact, in eyes
* Any symptoms you observe
* If child has vomited
* Medical problems such as allergies
* What you have already done
Follow the instructions of the poison control center. Fortunately, most poisonings are managed successfully over the phone.
Many families keep syrup of ipecac, which makes a child vomit, in the medicine cabinet. Never give a child syrup of ipecac unless you have been told to by the poison center staff. Strong acids and alkalis, such as drain cleaner or dishwashing detergent, can burn the esophagus. Vomiting will only make the damage worse.
Don’t ever hesitate to call the poison control center or 911 if you suspect poisoning. Debbie Gardner of the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center says that she doesn’t mind if someone calls and finds out the product is harmless. “Our job is to help you take care of a possible poisoning,” she says.
Make Prevention Your Goal
Why do kids get into poisons? They are curious and like to put things in their mouths. Here are some tips for keeping them safe:
* Never leave small children alone, even for a minute.
* If you are using a cleaner or medicine and the phone rings, take the bottle with you. Don’t leave it where a child might find it.
* Get rid of empty containers–take them to the trash can in the garage. Children have been known to take toxic material containers from the wastebasket and swallow the residue. (Pets also can get poisoned this way.)
* Don’t give a prescription medicine to anyone other than the person for whom it was intended.
* When you do give medicine to a child, put the container away immediately.
* Child-resistant caps are not child-proof. The standard requirement is that 80 percent of 3- and 4-year-old children cannot open the container within 10 minutes. That means that 20 percent of them can open the container in less than 10 minutes.
* Never store a product from the original container in another container, especially one that held food. One child drank gasoline that had been put into a soft drink can.
* Remember: Kids copy. In trying to be grown-up, they may taste the nail polish remover or after-shave lotion. If they see you taking a pill, they may try it themselves.
* Never refer to medicine as candy.
* Call your Poison Center to get `Mr. Yuk’ or other stickers to put on containers to remind kids to stay away.
You can keep a child in your care safe by taking proper precautions and knowing what to do in case a poisoning occurs.
What Would You Do? In each of the following situations, would you call 911, the poison center, or do nothing? 1. A 3-year-old you're baby-sitting for comes to you with red on his mouth and shirt and says, "I drink pop." It smells like cherry, but did he drink cherry pop or cherry cough medicine?  Call 911  Call Poison Center  Do Nothing 2. Your friend wonders why dogs and cats like antifreeze. He puts a drop on his tongue, then spits it out and rinses his mouth with several glasses of water.  Call 911  Call Poison Center  Do Nothing 3. The child you are baby-sitting comes to you covered in a white substance. She leads you to the kitchen where you find a bag of flour spilled on the floor.  Call 911  Call Poison Center  Do Nothing Answers: 1. Don't trust the child--he doesn't know the difference between pop and cough syrup. Call the poison center and discuss it with them. 2. Your friend is probably all right--he didn't ingest the antifreeze, and he rinsed it out. Still, you need some reassurance from the poison center. 3. You can relax, but you've got quite a mess to clean up.
ITEMS FOR REVIEW
1. Describe the kinds of warning signs that you might see if you were near a child who had gotten into a poison. (an unexplained empty medicine or supplement container; a trail of liquid along the floor from the kitchen or bathroom; or these physical symptoms about the child–being sleepy when it isn’t nap time, not being able to control eye movements, burns or stains or powdery material around the mouth, strange-smelling breath, or symptoms of physical discomfort)
2. In your opinion, what is the single most important way to prevent a poisoning incident in a young child in your care? Explain your answer.
Arrange for someone from a poison control facility to visit your classes. This activity would be ideal as a collaboration between health, child development, and health occupations classes. Following the visit, have each student write a one-page career interest report on the subject.