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Poison Control

Last year, more than a million children age 5 and under were poisoned. Young kids are especially at risk: Their natural curiosity leads them to put things in their mouth, and they also metabolize toxic substances faster than adults do. Most poisonings can be treated at home by calling your local poison-control center and following instructions. Here, how to make your home safe and what to do if your child swallows something toxic.

Know the Signs

If you suspect that your child has been poisoned and she exhibits any of these symptoms, call poison control.

  • Unexplained nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Chest or abdominal pain
  • Headache or blurred vision
  • Suspicious stains on clothing
  • Numbness, chills, or fever
  • Burns or rash on lips, mouth, or skin
  • Unusual drooling or odor on breath
  • Difficulty breathing*
  • Sudden behavior changes (sleepiness, irritability, jumpiness)*
  • Seizures, convulsions, or unconsciousness (only in extreme cases)*

*Call 911 or poison control at 1-800-222-1222 immediately

If Your Child Swallows Poison

  1. Quickly take it away from him; remove any from his mouth. Save any remaining substance.
  2. With the poison and its package in hand, call the poison-control at 1-800-222-1222. Do not give your child anything to eat or drink or induce vomiting unless instructed to do so.
  3. Notify your pediatrician or call 911.

If Your Child Inhales Poisonous Fumes

  1. Avoid breathing the fumes, and get her to fresh air immediately.
  2. If she is breathing and has a pulse, call poison control at 1-800-222-1222 and follow directions. If there's no pulse or breath, administer CPR for one minute, then call 911. Continue until help arrives.

If Your Child Gets Something Toxic in Her Eye

  1. Flush eye with lukewarm water for 15 minutes. (To keep a small child still, wrap her in a bedsheet with her arms at her sides.) Pour water into the inner corner of the eye, and have her blink.
  2. Call poison control at 1-800-222-1222. If she is in intense pain for more than a few minutes, her eye looks injured, or she can't see, call 911.

If Your Child Touches Something Toxic

  1. Without making contact with the poison, remove any contaminated clothing, then flush his skin with lukewarm water for at least 15 minutes.
  2. Call poison control at 1-800-222-1222.

Keep both of these over-the-counter emergency treatments on hand -- but never use them without calling poison control or your doctor first. These products are not interchangeable.

Syrup of ipecac causes a child to vomit within 30 minutes of ingestion and is often recommended for substances that are not absorbed quickly by the digestive system, such as large pills. Buy one bottle for each child in the house. Do not use ipecac if your child has swallowed a petroleum product, such as gasoline, or a corrosive substance, such as drain cleaner, which could burn his stomach, throat, or mouth tissue if vomited.

Activated charcoal binds to swallowed poisons such as aspirin and asthma drugs but does not induce vomiting. It also doesn't work against iron, petroleum products, or caustic substances such as dishwasher detergent and toilet cleaner. Use ipecac or charcoal when directed by a doctor or a poison-control center, but never use them together. Be sure to check expiration dates.

Ninety-one percent of poisonings occur at home. These are common toxins that may lurk in your kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, or basement.

Medicines: Iron pills, vitamins, prescription drugs, aspirin, acetaminophen, pet medications, creams and lotions, camphor-containing products, iodine

Cleaning Products: Oven/drain/toilet cleaners, bleach, furniture polish, detergents, disinfectants, ammonia, metal cleaners

Cosmetics: Nail polish/nail polish remover, makeup, baby powder (use externally only), deodorants, perfumes, shaving products, hair products, mouthwash

Garage and Yard Products: Lighter fluid, gasoline, kerosene, turpentine, antifreeze, paint, paint thinner/remover, epoxy glue, ant/roach killers, garden sprays, rat poison

Plants: Foxglove, lily of the valley, oleander, jimsonweed, azalea, rhododendron, pokeberry, holly berry, mistletoe, certain mushrooms

Miscellaneous: Mothballs, alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, lamp oil, superglue, pennies minted after 1982

Medicine Maneuvers: Store medicines in locked or safety-latched cabinets, even if the containers have child-resistant caps. Never refer to a medication as candy, which could make it more tempting, and don't take your own pills in front of little ones, who might imitate you. When you have guests, ask them to keep toiletries out of your child's reach, especially grandparents, who may not use childproof caps.

Household Hints: Store all products in their original containers and in locked cabinets. Never leave an open toxic product out on a floor or a counter, and if the phone or doorbell rings, take your child -- or the product -- with you. If you live in a home that was built before 1978, have it tested for lead paint.

Copyright © 2001 Daphne Sashin. Reprinted with permission from the May 2001 issue of Parents magazine.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.