Poisoning (in Children): Prevention & Treatment

Childhood Poisoning

Danger to Children Under 6

The majority of poisonings are accidental, occur in the home and are preventable. Children under age 6 are most often the victims. Children, who are naturally curious, find many opportunities to eat, drink or touch potentially poisonous substances, such as prescription and over-the-counter drugs, cleaners, toiletries, cosmetics and plants. Poisoning is thought to be the third most common cause of death in the U.S.

Keep the phone number of your local poison control center near your phone.

Poisoning Can Be Prevented

Products found in every household are by far the most common sources of poisons of young children. Problems arise when these products are swallowed, inhaled or splashed on the skin or in the eye. Common products that can be poisons include household cleaners, lighter fluid, cosmetics, toiletry items and certain houseplants. The effects of poisoning can range from mild nausea or diarrhea to death, depending on the product’s ingredients, how much was taken, how fast the poisoning is discovered and the age of the child. Cleaning products often contain bleach, detergents, ammonia, pine oil, phenol and methanol. Most detergents cause stomach upset when swallowed, and small amounts of bleach or ammonia can cause gastric irritation. Serious reactions occur with exposure to very acidic or alkaline poisons, such as drain cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, oven cleaners, concentrated bleach or lye. Any of these poisons can cause serious internal burns, or external burns if splashed on the skin or eyes. Another common poison arises when certain household cleaners are mixed, resulting in the release of a gas that irritates the lungs. Two examples of these are bleach mixed with an acidic toilet bowl cleaner (which releases chlorine gas) or bleach mixed with ammonia (releasing choramine gas). Another source of poisonings is carbon monoxide gas, released from defective heaters or emitted from a car in a closed garage.

Drugs, Cosmetics and Plants: Many medications, both prescription and those sold over-the-counter, can be very dangerous. It is important not to leave any drug products in a place that is easily accessible to children and no child should ever be told that a medicine tastes like candy. The toxic ingredient in cosmetics is usually alcohol, but some cosmetics contain dangerous oils such as eucalyptus or sage. Hair care products and nail polish can also be toxic. Certain house and garden plants can be poisonous if their leaves or stems are chewed. These plants include philodendron, dumbcane and dieffenbacchia. They contain chemicals that can cause stinging and swelling of the mouth and can block the airways.

Best Treatment: The best treatment of childhood poisoning is poison prevention. Safety packaging has helped to reduce the number of childhood poisonings, but it is not effective if the product is not closed properly or is transferred out of its original container. Poison containers must also be disposed of properly. Potentially poisonous products should always be stored out of the reach of children, preferably in a locked cabinet. Medication, even vitamins, should not be taken in front of children who enjoy imitating adults. A small bottle of ipecac should be kept in the house in case a poison control center advises that vomiting should be induced. When an accidental poisoning occurs, the local poison control center should be called immediately. When reporting a poisoning, the following information is necessary: name and amount of medication missing; exact name and approximate amount of household product ingested; and any symptoms that occur.

Your Local Poison Control Telephone Number can be found at the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

US Pharmacist
Copyright 2003 Jobson Publishing, LLC