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Poison Prevention: Common Household Dangers Every Parent Should Know

Posted Date: 3/1/2015
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Poison Prevention:
Common Household Dangers Every Parent Should Know

By: Dr. Kevin McDonough

In recognition of National Poison Prevention Week (March 15 – 21), parents should be aware of accidental poisoning and its extreme dangers. Poisoning is one of the leading causes of death from injuries in the United States, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Over two million poisonings are reported each year and more than 90% of occur in the home. The majority of non-fatal poisonings occur in children younger than six years old.

It is always the right time to teach these words to your children: DANGER, WARNING, CAUTION and KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN. Be aware that accidental poisoning can happen at any age and not only to small children.

The Most Dangerous Poisons for Children Include:

is safe in the right amount for the right person. A child should be told that medicine is to make them feel better. We know it can be a struggle to give medication to a resistant child, but never “trick” a child into taking medicine by calling it “candy.” By lowering a child's fear or respect for a medication, they may ingest it on their own, which may cause a toxic overdose.

Iron pills:
Adult-strength iron pills are very dangerous for children to swallow. Children may start vomiting blood or passing bloody stool/diarrhea within the first hour. 

Cleaning products
Cleaning products can cause chemical burns that are just as bad as burns from fire. Products that cause chemical burns include drain openers, toilet bowl cleaners, rust removers, and oven cleaners.
Note that an extremely dangerous gas forms when mixing bleach and ammonia, called Chloramine gas. It causes upper and lower airway irritation.  Window glass cleaners, which are often attractive to young children because of their purple or blue coloring, can cause serious eye and skin irritation.

Nail glue remover and nail primer:
Many products used for artificial nails or to remove nail polish can be poisonous in surprising ways. Some nail glue removers have caused cyanide poisoning when swallowed by children. Some nail primers have caused burns to the skin and mouth of children who tried to drink them. 

is a broad category that includes gasoline, kerosene, lamp oil, motor oil, lighter fluid, furniture polish, and paint thinner. These liquids are easy to choke on if someone tries to swallow them. If that happens, they can go down the wrong way, into the lungs instead of the stomach. If they get into someone’s lungs, they make it hard to breathe and can also cause lung inflammation. Hydrocarbons are among the leading causes of poisoning death in children. 

Chemicals to kill bugs and other pests must be used carefully to keep from harming humans. Many pesticides can be absorbed through skin. Some can also enter the body by inhaling the fumes. Additionally, some have the potential to affect the nervous system and can make it difficult to breathe.

Windshield washer solution and antifreeze:
Small amounts of windshield washer fluid and antifreeze are poisonous to both humans and pets. Windshield washer fluid can cause blindness and death if swallowed. Antifreeze can cause kidney failure and death if swallowed. 

When children swallow alcohol, they can have seizures, go into a coma, or even die. This is true no matter the source of the alcohol. Mouthwash, facial cleaners, and hair tonics can have as much alcohol in them as alcoholic beverages.

is a widely-used stimulant and is found in coffee and soda in modest amounts. Energy drinks and energy shots are a popular source of caffeine among young people and may contain larger amounts of caffeine than soda. Pure caffeine powder can be purchased online. While deaths related to caffeine are rare, overdoses are becoming more common. High doses of caffeine can cause nausea, vomiting, nervousness, sweating, tremor, increased heart rate, headache, and seizures.

It is helpful to know the following guidelines:
Ages 1 to 6 years
: Most accidental poisonings happen to this age group while exploring, which turns into shaking, spilling, smelling, tasting, and wiping of hands on skin or clothing.

Ages 5 to 10 years: Most accidental poisonings occur when children try to clean with household products. Often, they are looking to help mom or dad with the household cleaning.

Ages 8 to 18 years: Many in this age group are not completely aware of the dangers of poison, and could be huffing or sniffing household products to get high. Parents should talk to their adolescent and teens about inhalants to educate the child about these drugs, so they can avoid them. The drugs themselves can be called "Poppers", or “Whippets.” They are highly addictive and are extremely dangerous. They can be easily found in anyone’s home and include: paint, spray paint, glue, butane gas, propane gas, gasoline, felt tip pen ink, room deodorizers, and whipped cream dispensers.

Keep the poison center number, (800) 222-1222, on or near your phone. If a parent suspects their child ingested something poisonous, and/or the child is acting in a strange manner, contact emergency services and take the child directly to the nearest emergency room. In the case that the child may have had contact with poison but is showing no signs, call the poison control hotline or your doctor immediately. 

Kevin McDonough, M.D. is Board Certified in Pediatrics and maintains a practice affiliated with Richmond University Medical Center on Bard Avenue in Staten Island.

Kevin McDonough MD