Every year, about 3 million people — many, young children under age 5 — come into contact with poisonous substances. And most poisonings actually happen when parents or caregivers are home, says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
If you’re like most parents, you’ve probably taken safety precautions in your home. All of those baby gates, locks and childproof caps can help protect your child from harmful substances — that is, when everything is going according to plan. But when little ones sneak out of sight or there’s an inevitable change in your routine — like family visits, babysitters, running late, parties, holiday get-togethers, etc. — those safety measures may not work as well as they would on an ordinary day. And when you visit other people’s houses (like grandma and grandpa’s), there’s no telling what kids will get into.
The Most Common Poisoning Culprits
- cleaning products
- liquid nicotine
- windshield wiper fluid
- furniture polish
- kerosene/lamp oil
What You Can Do
Although you can’t prevent the unexpected from happening, you can take extra care to protect your child from poisonous substances. Here are some tips from the AAP in honor of National Poison Prevention Week, March 20–26:
- Storage. Store all poisonous products in locked cabinets or containers, out of children’s sight and reach. This includes medicine, cleaning and laundry products (including detergent packets), paints/varnishes, and pesticides.
- Safety latches. Use safety latches that automatically lock when you close a cabinet door, instead of those that involve an extra push or lift to secure them. Because there’s always a chance the device will fail, the safest place to store poisonous products is somewhere a child can’t reach — the higher up, the better.
- Safety caps. Buy — and store — all medicines in containers with safety caps. If you have unused medicine, throw it away. And remember that safety caps are designed to be child-resistant (meaning they’re designed to make it difficult for kids to open them), but they’re not fully childproof.
- Original bottles. Keep all products that could be poisonous in their original packaging or bottles. Avoid using daily medicine containers that aren’t childproof, and never place poisonous products in food or drink containers. You may know it’s not apple juice, but your child would not.
- “Candy.” Don’t refer to medicine as “candy” or any other appealing name so that your child won’t associate medicine with something yummy.
- Medicine dosage. Every time you give your child medicine, check the label to make sure it’s the proper dosage. When your child wakes up sick and you’re still half asleep, a “tsp” can look a lot like a “tbsp.” For liquid medicines, always use the syringe or other dosing device that came with the medicine — never a kitchen spoon.
- Poison in the air. Regularly check that your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working, and regularly change the batteries — even if they’re not dead yet. Although there are many ways these alarms can be set off, be sure that your coal, wood or kerosene stove is in safe, working order.
- E-cigarettes. If you or anyone your child spends time with uses e-cigarettes (or “vapes”), be sure to keep the liquid nicotine refills locked up out of kids’ reach. Also, be sure to only buy refills with child-resistant packaging. Ingesting or having the skin exposed to even a small amount of e-cigarette liquid can be fatal to a child.
- Dangers you may not have thought of. Seemingly innocent objects in your house like remote controls, key fobs, greeting cards and musical children’s books can all be dangerous to your child. These and other devices may contain small button-cell batteries that can cause serious harm if swallowed.
In the Event of a Poisoning
If your child’s unconscious, isn’t breathing, or is having convulsions or seizures after swallowing or coming into contact with any poisonous substance, call 911 right away. If your child has come into contact with a poisonous substance but has mild or no symptoms, call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222. Plug this number into your cell phone(s) and keep it pasted near all home phones, so that you’ll be prepared in the event of an emergency.
Get more information on poison prevention, symptoms and treatment:
First Aid: Poison (from Nemours’ KidsHealth)
Household Safety: Preventing Poisoning (from Nemours’ KidsHealth)
Poison Help (from the U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services)
Poisoning Prevention (from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)