McMaster University

McMaster University

Prevent poisonings

The following appeared in the House Calls column of the Hamilton Spectator on July 22, 2012.

Q: With summer holidays here, I'm thinking about ways to keep my children safe while I'm at work. They have a babysitter, but I worry about accidents — for example, ingesting harmful substances. Do you have any tips?

A: As a parent, you probably already know that kids will put anything in their mouths.

Accidental poisonings at home happen all too often, especially to children less than five years old, and the results can be deadly.

Everyday items in the home such as cosmetics, creams, cleaners, plants, toys, and insecticides cause most poisonings.

Children are also poisoned by accidentally swallowing medications, such as cold medicine, pain medicine, allergy medicine, vitamins, antibiotics and hormones.

The most dangerous poisons include iron, antidepressants and heart and seizure medications.

Some medications do not cause problems right away, but become very toxic hours later. This includes acetaminophen, iron, alcohol, lithium, time-release medications, and seizure medications.

Poisonings occur more often when families are busy, distracted or stressed. They are most likely to happen in the kitchen, bathroom or garage.

If you think or know that your child has swallowed something harmful, call the Poison Control Centre: 1-800-268-9017. Stay with your child. Do not make your child throw up. If the substance is irritating, vomiting will cause more harm.

The centre may tell you to take your child to the doctor or call 911 and go by ambulance to the hospital. Bring the container of the substance your child has swallowed. Try to estimate how much your child has ingested.

Some poisonings can be treated with medications that prevent the poison from being absorbed or prevent further damage.

Your child may need to stay in the hospital to be watched for side-effects and have tests. Sadly, some accidental poisonings have lasting effects that require lifelong treatment.

How can I prevent accidental poisonings?

  • Keep all medications and toxic substances in childproof containers out of children's reach.
  • Make sure all bottles and containers are clearly labelled.
  • Never put a toxic substance in a container normally used for food or drink.
  • After using any medication, put the container back in a safe place — where no curious child could ever reach. A locked cabinet is best.
  • Take old or unused medications to your pharmacy for safe disposal.

Dr. Sarah Khan is a pediatric resident at McMaster University.

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