Is It Candy or Medicine?

Essential Safety Steps

Since you can't possibly watch your child every single second, it's crucial to poison-proof your home thoroughly.

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Keep medications and potentially harmful substances, such as vitamins, bath oil, and perfume, locked up and out of your child's reach and sight. "Easy access for you means easy access for your kids," says Catherine Tom-Revzon, Pharm.D., clinical pharmacy manager in pediatrics at Montefiore Medical Center, in New York City. Make sure that dangerous products have child-resistant caps, but don't rely on them. Get down on your hands and knees, and look at everything from your child's point of view. Many local poison-control centers offer free "Mr. Yuk" stickers; you can put them on bottles and explain to your child what they mean.

Always read labels before giving your child medicine, and double-check the markings on dosing cups and spoons. In 2004, more than 65,000 children under age 6 were accidentally given the wrong medication or dosage, including a 3-year-old boy who died after receiving adult doses of acetaminophen for five days. If you're not sure whether a medication or dosage is safe, check with your pediatrician or pharmacist or call poison control.

Use dangerous products, such as drain opener or oven cleaner, only when your child is napping or out of the house. Be sure to close caps tightly, and lock them up when you finish using them. Wipe up any spills right away. Store all products in their original packaging, and don't transfer them into soda bottles or other containers normally used for food.

Never let your young child out of your sight when visiting friends and relatives. Grandparents may buy drugs that don't have child-resistant packaging and keep them out on bedside tables, countertops, or in handbags. "A pill holder with sections for each day of the week looks like a toy to a small child," says Dr. Tom-Revzon.

Teach your child that she should never put something in her mouth if she doesn't know what it is. Remove poisonous plants from your house and yard (for a list of toxic plants, go to poison.org). Never give her sips of alcoholic beverages or leave any after-party drinks sitting out. Avoid taking pills in front of your child.

Post the poison-control number -- 800-222-1222 -- near every phone in your house. (Your call will be automatically routed to the nearest regional poison-control center.) Store the number in your cell phone, and make sure that your child's caregivers know to call poison control if your child swallows or comes in contact with anything that might be harmful.

"It's amazing how easily young children can climb and open unlocked cabinets and containers," says Kristin Wenger, poison-prevention education coordinator at Blue Ridge Poison Center in Charlottesville, Virginia. Even kids who won't take a bite of broccoli or whole wheat manage to swallow all sorts of potentially toxic products they find around the house, so you can't be too careful.

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