Child Poisoning Guide for Parents: Prevention and Post-poisoning Action Steps

Awareness of Poison Hazards Children have access to

Babies and small children are interested in everything around them, it's their business to explore and experiment and learn.  Unfortunately, this curiosity leads many of them to taste and chew and feel poisonous substances every year and become very ill or even die.  It's the responsibility of parents and caretakers to keep all poisonous substances out of sight, out of reach, and out of bounds for children.  Children act fast, and so do poisons!  Almost half of all poisonings are from medicines and vitamins.  And detergents are ingested more than any other household product. 

Your regional Poison Center is listed on the inside cover of your phone book under Emergency, in the yellow pages or under Poison, in the white, or business pages.  Most areas are covered by a regional Poison Center.  Be sure to know yours!  And then contact them for telephone stickers with their phone number on them.  If there is not a certified center in your area, your nearest poison control center may be located in a hospital emergency room. 

Read the labels on all chemical and cosmetic products you buy.  There are products which are less hazardous than others.  Let their, signal, words be your guide:  POISON means highly toxic; DANGER means highly toxic, corrosive and/or flammable; WARNING means moderately toxic; CAUTION means slightly toxic.  Be sure to leave products in their original containers that clearly identify the contents.  Be sure to read ALL label instructions before using a product, and store household chemicals away from foods.  Buy unscented products so children are less prone to eat or drink them.  Buy a bottle of syrup of ipecac to have in your pantry should it ever be needed.  It induces vomiting within 20 minutes.  A one once bottle costs less than $3 to $5.  Every bottle is stamped with an expiration date.  When it expires, replace it.  Get a second bottle to keep in your handbag or in the car's glove compartment.  After all, lots of poisonings occur away from home. 

Should a poisoning actually occur:  Be aware that the two basic types of poisons are CAUSTIC, meaning they cause burning, and NON CAUSTIC require very different types of treatment.  Complete lists of each would require space not available here, but a few examples can be given.  The caustic category includes such products as drain opener, toilet bowl cleaner, laundry detergent, electric dishwasher detergent, oven cleaner, rust remover, battery acid and some health and beauty products, such as permanent wave solution.  Among non-caustics toxins are most health and beauty aids, some, not all, petroleum products such as gasoline, kerosene, and furniture polish, some plants, medicines and cigarettes. 

If poison has been taken by mouth, remove any you can get at.  Then call your Poison Center immediately!  Chances are good that with instruction, you will be able to treat your child at home.  If your child is unconscious, has throat soreness, excessive drowsiness or seems very ill, call your emergency medical service at 911 and/or head for the hospital's emergency room. 

If for some reason you can't reach help at the moment, give the child a glass of milk or water, if he or she is conscious and willing to drink it.  Do not force any liquids.  Never give syrup of ipecac without first calling your poison center and being advised to do so.  Never give syrup of ipecac or otherwise induce vomiting if you know or even suspect that the poison ingested was in the caustic category.  Save the container.  Bring it with you to the phone.  You may need to describe it over the phone, or your doctor may want to see it if you are advised to go to a hospital. 

If poison has affected the child's skin, remove any contaminated clothing and flood the skin with water for 15-20 minutes, then wash gently with soap and water.  Then call your Poison Center.  If poison is in your child's eyes, hold eyelids open and pour cool water into the eyes for 15-20 minutes.  Then call the Poison Center.  Don't let the child rub the eyes and don't hold a child's head under running water from a faucet, either.

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