The AAPCC Web site offers useful poison-prevention information for parents. Check out www.aapcc.org.
Medicines account for a large portion of child poisonings, and over-the-counter drugs can be just as harmful as prescription drugs. Kids are attracted to medicines because they like to imitate adult behavior. They may confuse pills with candy, or think bottles of brightly colored liquid contain fruit juice.
Medicines among the most dangerous to children are pain relievers, cold and cough remedies, iron supplements (such as prenatal vitamins), and drugs commonly taken by older adults for heart problems, diabetes, arthritis, and high blood pressure.
Children's chewable vitamins resemble candy, but they shouldn't be confused with sweets. If your child takes them, give him one and store the bottle locked and out of sight. This is especially important with vitamins containing iron, which can be very harmful to children in large enough quantities.
When you dispose of medicine that has expired, be sure to place it in a waste bin to which your child won't have access. Liquids or pills also can be flushed down the toilet. Patches worn to dispense medicine through the skin should not be tossed in a wastebasket where small kids might explore. Some children have been known to wear or chew used patches, and there could be enough medicine left to be harmful.
Be careful when you give your child his own medicine. If you misread the label and give him two tablespoons rather than two teaspoons, he's had three times more than the proper dose. Coordinate with your spouse or baby-sitter so you don't duplicate his doses.
Plants and Wild Mushrooms
Plants not only can make your child sick, they also can cause choking if he chews off pieces of leaves. It's best to keep indoor plants out of reach and to supervise your child carefully when he's outside. Diffenbachia (also called dumbcane) and philodendron are two common houseplants that cause mouth pain and swelling if chewed. Children are especially attracted to flowers and berries. Keep them away from azaleas, rhododendron, oleander, and holly. When they are old enough, teach them how to handle and care for plants, not eat them.
Learn the names of the plants in and around your home. If you ever have to call the poison center because your child ate a leaf, you'll need to be able to identify it as something more specific than “a green houseplant.”
Tales from the Safety Zone
Did you ever call late afternoon “the arsenic hour”? By that you probably meant that it's the time of day when kids get tired and cranky and parents are so exhausted they're ready to do themselves in. The staffs of poison control centers have a different interpretation. Late afternoon is their peak time for calls because kids get into things while parents are distracted cooking dinner, helping an older child with homework, or coping with other demands.
Much more dangerous are many wild mushrooms. These can pop up overnight, especially if there has been a lot of rainfall. Some can be fatal even in small amounts. Don't let your child play around them, and don't serve your children mushrooms you collect yourself unless they have been identified by an expert.
Other Poisons Around Your House
Cleaning supplies are dangerous, especially drain cleaners, which can cause chemical burns. Some other high-hazard substances are nail polish remover, paint thinner, gasoline, kerosene, antifreeze, and windshield washer solution.
Pesticides and lawn chemicals can be toxic to humans. Don't use products that require you to leave powder or pellets in the areas where your child plays. Follow the instructions carefully.
When you buy art supplies for your child's use, make sure the label states that the product complies with federal regulations for art materials used in homes with children. The label will say: “Conforms to ASTM D-4236.” If you have art supplies in the home for adult use, keep them stored in a locked cabinet.