Preventing Accidental Poisonings

New study shows children four and younger are more likely to be hospitalized after unintentionally swallowing medicines than all other accidental injuries. How you can protect your family.

January 18, 2006 – If you have a child younger then 4-years-old in your home, you better make sure your medicine cabinet is locked tightly.  Kids in this age group are more likely to be hospitalized for accidentally swallowing medications than all other causes of unintentional injury, according to a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

An estimated 53,500 kids four years and younger were treated in hospital emergency rooms each year from 2001-2003 after accidentally swallowing medications or being given them in error—with 75 percent of these incidents occurring in the home—according to the CDC.

About 40 percent of the ingestions involved common over-the-counter drugs like acetaminophen, cold and cough medications, non-steroid anti-inflammatory medications, antihistamines, and vitamins.  Prescription drugs accounted for most of the remaining medication ingestions.

While specific information about how these incidents occurred wasn’t available for the vast majority of the cases, 15 percent of them resulted from medications not being properly stored in their original containers.

How can you be extra careful?  Here’s a list of prevention tips from the CDC and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP):

  • Store all medications in secured cabinets and out of reach of children.

  • Avoid taking medications in the presence of children, as they often try to imitate adults. Also, don't call medicine "candy."

  • Avoid putting medications in open trash containers in the kitchen or bathroom because many adult medications can be deadly to small children and pets. Discard all unused medications by flushing them down the toilet.

  • Keep all medications (both prescription and nonprescription) in their original child-resistant containers. If medicines are transferred to other containers, ensure your children don't have access to them.

  • Make sure your visitors don't leave their medicines where children can easily find them.

  • Always turn the light on when giving or taking medicine.

  • Check your medications periodically for expiration dates. If medication is not dated, consider it expired six months after purchase. (Write the purchase date on the label.)

  • Be aware that vitamins, particularly those containing iron, can be poisonous if taken in large doses.

  • Post the poison control number 1-800-222-1222 on or near every phone at home and put it in your speed dial on your cell phone.

The estimates for the CDC study were based upon data from 3,600 sample cases fromU.S. hospitals.

What do you think about this study?  Do you struggle to keep medicine out of your kids’ hands? When it comes to avoiding accidental poisonings, what prevention steps do you take in your home? Share your thoughts on our message board below:

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