Preventing Poisoning in Children

More than 90 percent of poisonings in children happen in the home, and most occur when parents or caregivers are present. Doctors at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone recommend taking steps to ensure that children do not have access to the types of household items that can lead to poisoning, such as medications, pesticides, plants, alcoholic beverages, and illicit substances. They also recommend keeping appliances and carbon monoxide detectors in good working order.

Call 911 if your child is experiencing chest pain or difficulty breathing, is unconscious, or if you feel that your child needs immediate medical attention. If you suspect your child has been poisoned, call 1-800-222-1222, the telephone number for Poison Help and the New York City Poison Control Center. Our doctors recommend that parents and caretakers post this number near telephones in the home and program it into cellphones.

Proper Storage of Poisonous Items

Most children learn to crawl, to pull themselves up to stand, and to walk between 6 and 12 months of age. Always assume that your child has the ability to reach medications and other potentially poisonous items on tables, counters, and in cabinets, and take steps to keep these items out of reach. Use child-proof locks on cabinets and store items on high shelves or cupboards.

Children may find some household products appealing, such as blue window cleaner or colorful packets of concentrated laundry detergent, and choose to put them in their mouths. Scented liquids such as lemon-scented floor cleaner may also be attractive to children. Be sure to keep these items in locked cabinets.

Don’t leave toxic items unattended, particularly where children can reach them, even for a moment. Put them away immediately after use and secure any child safety caps.

Ask family members and guests to remove medications from purses, bags, or coat pockets that are within reach of children and to store them safely.

Do not store toxic household products, such as cleaners or pesticides, in the refrigerator or near food. Instead, store food and toxic products in separate areas to reduce the risk of a child reaching for the wrong item.

Do not store household products such as chemicals, cleaners, or pesticides in soda or juice containers. Rather, keep medications and household items in their original containers to avoid confusion over the contents of the bottle.

Keep poisonous plants out of the reach of children.

Lock up items labeled “danger,” “warning,” or “caution.” When in doubt, lock it up.

Our doctors recommend reading the labels on household products to determine if any ingredients may be potentially poisonous to children.

Proper Disposal of Poisonous Items

Our doctors advise parents and caregivers to remove unwanted, unused, or expired medications from the home as soon as possible.

Most unwanted medications should not be flushed down the toilet because they can pollute waterways. Check with your local pharmacy for medication take-back programs, although they cannot accept controlled substances, such as prescription painkillers. The United States Drug Enforcement Administration arranges events for the safe disposal of these types of medications.

If you can’t locate a take-back program, you may wish to throw medication in the trash and remove it from the home immediately. Do not leave medication in unlocked garbage cans in your home.

Maintain Appliances and Heaters

It’s important to minimize exposure to carbon monoxide by ensuring that all fuel-burning appliances and home heating systems are inspected and tuned up annually. Never burn charcoal or operate gasoline-powered generators inside the home and don’t use gas ovens or stoves for heating the home.

Install a carbon monoxide detector on each floor in your home, in bedrooms and kitchens, and near fuel-burning appliances, such as a furnace or water heater. Change the batteries on these devices twice a year or install a device with a sealed 10-year battery.

Give the Correct Medication Dose

To prevent an overdose, carefully read the labels on prescription and over-the-counter medications regarding the correct dose before administering them to your child. Turn on the lights when giving medications to your children at night to ensure you are using the correct bottle. Never refer to medication as “candy”—this may lead children to think of it as harmless to eat.

Resources for Poisoning in Children
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