The danger of poisons
People of any age can become ill if they come into contact with certain medicines,
household pesticides, chemicals, cosmetics, or plants. But children in particular
face a greater risk for unintentional poisoning death and exposure than adults. This
is not only because they are smaller, but also because they have faster metabolic
rates. They are less able physically to handle toxic chemicals.
What causes poisonings?
Young children are poisoned most often by things in the home. These include:
Carbon monoxide poisoning and lead poisoning also pose a threat to both children and
adults. Although serious reactions can occur in all cases of poisoning, most people
are not permanently harmed if they are treated right away.
How do most poisonings occur?
More than 90% of all poison exposures occur in the home. Among children ages 5 and
under, 57% of poison exposures are by nonmedicine products, such as cosmetics, cleaning
substances, plants, pesticides, and art supplies. Forty-three percent are by medicines.
Most poisonings occur when parents are not paying close attention or watching children
as closely as usual. Calls to poison control centers peak between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m.
In fact, because the hectic routine of getting dinner on the table causes so many
lapses in parental attention, late afternoon has come to be known as "the arsenic
hour" by poison center personnel.
What to do if a poisoning occurs
If you find your child with an open or empty container of a toxic substance, your
child may have been poisoned. Stay calm, act quickly, and follow these guidelines:
Get the poison away from the child.
If the substance is still in the child's mouth, make him or her spit it out or remove
it with your fingers (keep this along with any other evidence of what the child has
Do not make the child vomit.
Do not follow instructions on packaging regarding poisoning because these are often
outdated. Instead, call Poison Help at 800-222-1222 to get connected to a local poison
Call 911 right away, if your child has any of these symptoms:
Drowsiness, irritability, or jumpiness
Nausea, vomiting, or stomach pain without fever
Lip or mouth burns or blisters
Strange odors on your child's breath
Unusual stains on your child's clothing
Seizures or unconsciousness
Take or send the poison container with your child to help the healthcare provider
find out what was swallowed. If your child does not have these symptoms, call your
local poison control center or your child's healthcare provider. They will need the
following information to help you:
Your name and phone number
Your child's name, age, and weight
Any health conditions your child may have
Any medicines your child may be taking
The name of the substance your child swallowed. Read it from the container and spell
The time your child swallowed the poison (or when you found your child), and the amount
you think was swallowed.
Any symptoms your child may be having
If the substance was a prescription medicine, give all the information on the label,
including the name of the medicine.
If the name of the medicine is not on the label, give the name and phone number of
the pharmacy, and the date of the prescription.
What the pill looked like (if you can tell) and if it had any printed numbers or letters
If your child swallowed another substance, such as a part of a plant, describe it
as much as you can to help identify it.
Poisons on the skin
If your child spills a chemical on his or her body, remove his or her clothes and
rinse the skin with lukewarm—not hot—water. If the area shows signs of being burned,
continue rinsing for at least 15 minutes, no matter how much your child may protest.
Then call the poison control center for further advice. Do not use ointments or grease.
Poison in the eye
Flush the eye by holding the eyelid open and pouring a steady stream of lukewarm—not
hot—water into the inner corner of the eye. If this is a child, you may need help
from another adult to hold the child while you rinse the eye. Continue flushing the
eye for 15 minutes, and call the poison control center for further instructions. Do
not use an eyecup, eyedrops, or ointment unless the poison center tells you to do
Poisonous fumes or gases
In the home, poisonous fumes can be emitted from the following sources:
A car running in a closed garage
Leaky gas vents
Wood, coal, or kerosene stoves that are not working properly
Mixing bleach and ammonia together while cleaning, which makes chloramine gas
Strong fumes from other cleaners and solvents
If your child breathes in fumes or gases, get him/her into fresh air right away.
If your child is breathing without a problem, call the poison center for further instructions.
If your child is having difficulty breathing, call 911 or your local emergency service
If your child has stopped breathing, start CPR and do not stop until your child breathes
on his or her own or someone else can take over. If you can, have someone call 911
right away. If you are alone, perform CPR for 2 minutes and then call 911.
Be prepared for a poisoning emergency by posting the poison center telephone number
by every telephone in your home.
Child-resistant lids now go on certain common household products
The Consumer Product Safety Commission requires safety caps on a variety of commonly
used household products. The products, all oily hydrocarbon products, are thin and
slippery and can easily suffocate children if the substances are drawn into their
lungs when drinking them. The products can cause chemical pneumonia by coating the
inside of the lungs. Products that are required to have a safety lid include:
Nail enamel dryers
Bath, body, and massage oils
Some automotive chemicals (gasoline additives, fuel injection cleaners, and carburetor
Cleaning solvents (wood oil cleaners, metal cleaners, spot removers, and adhesive
Some water repellents containing mineral spirits used for decks, shoes, and sports
General-use household oil
Gun-cleaning solvents containing kerosene
Oil products that are thicker and more "syrupy" are not a problem, since they are
not easily inhaled into the lungs.