Poisoning in the Home . . . Preventing the Unthinkable
It has happened to every parent. You are spending time with your toddler. You look away for a split second and they are gone. We can be the most conscientious of caregivers and yet, children still find a way to get into things not meant for them. Sometimes it is candy, sometimes it is paperwork, but what about the times when what they dig into is dangerous, or worse, poison? We know we cannot watch them every second of every day so prevention becomes the crucial tool most likely to avoid poisoning in the home. In order to avoid poison, you have to first know what it looks like. Yes, it may look like drain cleaner to us, but it is the same color as Kool-Aid to them. It looks like medicine when mom takes it, but it is poison for their little bodies. What about the poison you cannot see? Carbon Monoxide poisoning is fatal, but you cannot see it, smell it or feel it. In fact, many people die from the poison before ever experiencing any symptoms.
Household cleaners should always be stored in their original bottles or containers and be secured in an area small children cannot reach. You can child-proof you home with safety latches, grips, outlet covers and slide locks. Remember that babies and toddlers will put almost anything in their mouths, so it is our job to ensure that they are not exposed to chemicals or sharp corners or other dangers. KidSafe has a child proofing checklist which assists us in making sure we have covered each room and the dangers that exist. Adults can also poison themselves with cleaners by mixing products together. Bleach and ammonia can be a toxic combination. Always wear protective clothing if you spray pesticides or chemicals, including gloves, long sleeves, long pants, socks and shoes. Ventilate the room when painting or using strong chemicals.
Poisoning does not just affect children, however. Adults are poisoned by misuse or abuse of prescription drugs, or from simply not watching the expiration dates and consuming toxic medications. There are several safety precautions you can use to avoid an accidental overdose or taking a medication that has become toxic. First, never take any medications that are not prescribed to you by a healthcare professional and limit your use to the dosage you are prescribed. Just because a medication worked for Grandma doesn’t mean it is healthy for you or your toddler. Make sure you keep vitamins and herbals in a separate place from prescription drugs and keep both in a place that can only be reached by those who dispense the medication or are supposed to be taking it. Always keep your medication in its original container and turn on a light when you take medication to be sure you know what you are taking. Dispose of unused, unneeded or expired prescription drugs properly and if you don’t know how you should be disposing of them, contact your pharmacist. Always monitor the medication use of your children, teenagers and the elderly. If necessary, keep narcotics in a lockbox for security. Remember that medications kept in a purse, backpack, coat or on an open counter are a temptation to a small child and easily accessible.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), carbon monoxide poisoning kills more than 400 Americans a year unintentionally, sends 20,000 to the emergency room and hospitalizes 4,000. People and animals are subject to poisoning. Prevention includes having your heating system, water heater and any other gas appliance serviced by a qualified technician each year, as well as ensuring you have a battery-operated or battery back-up Carbon Monoxide detector in your home. Batteries should be changed when you update the time on your clocks each spring and fall. Look for gas equipment that carries the seal of a national testing agency, such as the CSA Group. Make sure your appliances that are gas are vented and never leave gas stoves or fireplaces running when you will not be home.
What if . . . . ?
No matter how much we try to prevent it, poisoning does happen. So what do you do? Remain calm and call 9-1-1 or the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222. Be prepared to tell emergency responders the victim’s age and weight, time of exposure and address where the poisoning occurred. If possible, have the container or bottle containing the poison available and follow the instructions of emergency personnel or the Poison Control Center in rendering first aid until first responders arrive.