How to Prevent Poisonings in Children

Prevention of poisonings is the grunt work of parenting. It is completely boring, repetitive, and endless. It is also absolutely necessary. I will try to make it as painless as possible.

First, some statistics to motivate you. In 2013, there were more than 1 million calls to poison help lines for children under 6 years of age. That’s almost 3000 kids a day exposed to potential poisons. 29 children died. Not that big a number unless, of course, yours is one of the 29.

Let’s keep that from happening.

The phone number for poison control is 1-800-222-1222. Stick it on every phone in your home, input it into your cell phone, and also into the grandparents and babysitter’s cell phones. Hopefully you will never need it.

The number one thing that will keep your children from being poisoned is your attention. They can’t get those pills off the counter or that detergent from under the sink if you are watching them.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to watch every child every minute of the day, so do safety proof your house and your habits so bad things won’t happen during a moment of inattention.

  • Store poisons up high (kids can’t reach them), out of sight (they don’t see them and become curious), and locked up (when all else fails, they can’t open them).
  • Make the locks automatic so you don’t have to remember to lock them as the phone is ringing.
  • Keep poisons in their original, labeled containers.
  • Don’t ever put poisons in anything that looks like a food container. I once had a child drink gasoline out of a big soda cup.
  • Don’t keep poisons in a purse, because kids love to explore purses. And because no-one keeps purses locked up and out of sight.
  • Keep the original child safety caps on everything, even though they are a pain.
  • Throw away poisons that you no longer need or use.
  • Don’t take medicines in front of a child, because children are excellent mimics; never call medicine candy, because they like candy.

So, what is a poison? Lets keep the definition loose: anything a child can ingest, absorb through their skin, or inhale that will do him or her harm. Another list!

  • Button cell batteries: They can eat right through the gut. They are in remote controls, key fobs, musical cards and books… Keep them out of reach.
  • Medicines, including vitamins, minerals, iron pills, and herbals: these are all more dangerous in a child’s tiny body.
  • Cleaning supplies: drain cleaner is a nightmare, bleach burns, abrasives abrade, furniture polish oozes into their lungs… Lock ’em up! Lock up those little laundry detergent packets too.
  • Pesticides: yuck. They cause fever, tiny  pupils, vomiting, breathing problems, twitches, seizures, and death. Respect pesticides.
  • Car stuff: gasoline, antifreeze, wiper fluid… Make yourself a high spot in the garage, too.
  • Heating stuff: coal, wood, and kerosine heaters need to be kept clean and in good working order; Kerosine and lamp oil are on the lock up list. Install smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors since you can’t lock up smoke.
  • Alcohol: you wanted to lock that up anyway, didn’t you? Kids drop their blood sugar when they drink alcohol, and can go into a coma.
  • Tobacco: The big worry is the liquid nicotine for vapor refills. 1/2 tsp can be toxic, they are not regulated, and they do not have child resistant caps.
  • Small magnets: not fun when two of them get together on opposite pieces of gut.

Now, about those habits. We tend to get stuff out of those locked spaces to leave on the counter, in a purse, or sitting open where we are working. Regret is not a fun emotion. Neither is guilt. Don’t leave those pills on the counter and go get a drink to swallow them with; pour out the drink glasses immediately after the party, put away the cleaning stuff before answering that phone. Be aware of any poison you have out, until it is locked up again.

The one thing that messes up all this preparation and care is a holiday, with all its incumbent disruption. Be especially vigilant during a holiday, a special occasion, or when you have guests. Stuff is everywhere, everything is hectic, and no-one is watching the kids.

Suspect a poisoning when your child vomits, has a strange odor, has staining on their clothes or around their mouths, burns around their mouths, or when there are open containers around.

If they look OK, call the poison help line, and be prepared to tell them what you think the child took, how much, how big he or she is, and where you are. Have the bottle in your hand when you call.

If something splashed into their eye, rinse it with tepid water for 15 minutes. Hold the eye open and aim the water at the corner by the nose.

If the poison is on their skin, take off the clothes covered with the poison, and rinse the child in the shower for 15 minutes.

If the child inhaled the poison, take them outside into fresh air.

If your child is unconscious, having trouble breathing, or seizing, call 911.

Take a CPR course, because everyone should.

Prevention of poisonings may not be the most fun and inspirational thing you do as a parent, but if you set the house up right and then watch your habits, you will never have reason for regret.

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