Preventing Accidental Poisonings at Home

Published on Nov 22, 2017
Medically reviewed by Alison Mitzner, MD

It’s always important to be aware of unintentional poisonings and to learn about poison prevention. Though many adults may not think a poisoning could happen to them or their children, many parents may not even be aware of what the dangers could be!

Most childhood poisonings occur in and around the home. The number admitted to hospital is highest among two-year old infants. And the risk of poisoning from medicines, solvents or pesticides is much higher than the risk of other poisonings, such as bites from spiders, bees or wasps. Two out of every three childhood hospitalisations for poisoning are due to medicines. These statistics emphasise the importance of learning about poison prevention and what to do if a poisoning should occur.

Important Tips to Prevent Accidental Poison Ingestions

It’s a good idea to always store all medicines and household products up and away and out of sight in a cabinet where a child cannot reach them. This includes your vitamins. Kids see things at eye level so keep them out of lower drawers and cabinets, in the kitchen and bathroom, for example. For drawers and cabinets in reach of children, add safety locks. I often tell parents to get down on their hands and knees and crawl around to see what your children can get in to.

For convenience, some people keep medicines out for use later, but it is important to keep medicines out of reach after every use. As you may know, children can be quick, and it can take only seconds with your head turned for children to explore and find something to put in their mouth.

Additional tips to ensure poison safety include:

  • Keep batteries, especially button-sized ones out of the reach of children. Make sure remote controls, including anything battery-operated (think children’s toys, or books) are well secured so your child cannot get to the batteries. If swallowed, batteries can cause injury to the oesophagus, which requires immediate emergency attention.
  • Never refer to medicine as lollies! Children will try to get into these medicines even more.
  • Leave cleaning products and poisonous products in their original containers. Putting them into soft drink bottles or other food containers can be risky and later mistaken for something else, which can cause an accidental poisoning to occur.
  • Always put the medicine bottle caps on securely after taking medicine. Most caps are child-resistant, but it is important to ensure tops are on properly whether child-resistant or not.  
  • Keep medicines out of your nappy bag or purse. If they are in there, keep your bag out of reach of children. As parents, we all know toddlers especially love to explore mummy’s pocketbook!

Potential Hazards Around the House

Being aware of some of the potential dangers that can occur in your own home is important. These dangers can come in the form of household products including bleach, detergents, dishwasher liquid or cleaning products. Other chemicals to be aware of that can cause poisoning are pain relievers, makeup, personal care products and pesticides.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can occur at home. Think of poorly vented appliances or indoor use of grills.

Also, lead poisoning can occur, especially in homes built prior to the 1960s, when lead-based paint was the most commonly used house paint. Flaking paint or dust from the home may cause lead poisoning in children. If you live in an older home, remove any peeling paint that your child can get into. If there is dust, rinse your child’s toys frequently. It is important to identify any lead risks in your home and keep your children away from it.

What to Do If Exposed

If you think your child has been exposed to or has ingested something poisonous, first make sure there is nothing left in your child’s mouth or check to see if he or she has swallowed anything. Never try to have your child vomit. If the poison was acidic, you can do more damage to the throat. If your child is unconscious, not breathing, unusually sleepy, has experienced a seizure or any distress, call 000 (Australia) or 111 (New Zealand) immediately.
 
If your child is not having any symptoms or only mild symptoms, you can call the Poisons Information Line 24 hours a day on 13 11 26 (Australia) and 0800 POISON [0800 764 766] (New Zealand) for any poison emergency. They will ask you what poison the child may have been exposed to or swallowed, including how much, when it occurred and the age of the child who was possibly poisoned. Even if you are not sure exactly what happened, they can assist you on how to handle the potential poisoning. They will tell you what to look for and what to do depending on what the poison exposure or ingestion was.

I suggest keeping the poison emergency phone number in a place you can access immediately; put it on the refrigerator for you and family members to see easily, give it to your child care provider, and put it near or in all your phones and anywhere else you can retrieve it quickly.

Kids often love to explore and put everything in their mouth. So the things around the house can be a potential safety hazard if ingested. Whether your little one is starting to crawl, or your toddler is running around at grandma’s house, learning about poison prevention can help keep your little ones stay safe while they’re having fun!  

Alison Mitzner, MD is a former practicing pediatrician and a Senior Director at Pfizer’s Worldwide Safety & Regulatory Operations.

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References

  • 1. Cripps R, Steel D. Childhood poisoning in Australia. NISU Briefing. AIHW 2006. Accessed 13/2/2017.
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