Preventing accidental poisonings

by Jannelle Calderon

National Poison Prevention Week is March 15 to 21, national efforts are made to remind people that poisonings can occur anywhere, anytime, to anyone and any substance can be poisonous. It promotes awareness of deadly and dangerous products that are within our homes and in reach. From laundry detergent to prescription medicines, ordinary items can poison a loved one of any age.

According to the Health Resource and Services Administration, most consumer products are safe if label directions are followed, but some can be poisonous if used incorrectly, by the wrong person and/or in the wrong amount. 

“Chemicals such as drain uncloggers, oven cleaners and rust removers are caustic and can cause severe burns to eyes and skin. They can cause severe toxicity if swallowed. Just because you can buy these products in the supermarket does not mean they are safe,” Dr. Kristina Domanski says. 

“Some over the counter eye drops contain a chemical called tetrahydrozoline. If swallowed, the drops can cause low blood pressure, slow heart rate and coma.” 

Poisoning is the leading cause of unintentional injury deaths in the U.S. In late December 2017, Tide Pods became the center of an internet meme, which involves a dare to intentionally consume the pods. The meme became especially popular with teenagers, and since then, there has been a sharp increase in poisoning incidents. 

To prevent poisonings: 

  1. Be prepared for an emergency. Keep the free Poison Help phone number at your fingertips: 1-800-222-1222. All calls are answered by specially trained nurses, pharmacists, physicians, toxicologists and para-professionals and they are available 24/7, 365 days of the year.
  2.  Practice safe storage habits. Always store medicines and hazardous substances away from children– up, away and out of sight. Keep these substances in their original, child-resistant containers. 

Dr. Domanski adds that communication with visitors to the home is important too. 

“Encourage grandparents and other relatives to store their medications safely. A brightly colored weekly pillbox on the bedside cabinet may be attractive to a young child, and can be easily opened,” she says. 

“Several common medications used for high blood pressure or diabetes can cause severe toxicity or death in a young child with the ingestion of a single pill.”

3. Read and follow all labels and directions. Review medicine and product labels before you use them, especially before giving medicine to children. 

Many over the counter cough/cold/flu medicines have more than one active ingredient. They often contain acetaminophen (Tylenol) to reduce fever. 

“If you are using more than one medication to treat your cold, make sure that you are not taking multiple acetaminophen-containing products,” she says.

“Also do not transfer cleaning or auto fluids to Gatorade or sport drink bottles. Antifreeze is often brightly colored and tastes sweet, however, even a small amount can cause kidney damage or death.”

 

4. Detect other threats. Have a working carbon monoxide detector in your home. Scorpions, snakes and spiders should also be taken into consideration. If a child gets bit, since they are smaller, they will get a higher dose of venom and can develop severe toxicity and require treatment with antivenom. 

“I have taken care of a lot of snakebites, and many of these could have easily been prevented had the person involved not been drunk and tried to pick up a snake,” Dr. Domanski says. “Do not mix alcohol and venomous wildlife!”

The Nevada Poison Center handled over 19,000 cases in 2018, and 9,492 of those were treated onsite or at home which saved people money and time. Although anyone can be poisoned, people under 19-years-old made up 8,352 of the exposure cases. The Poison Help hotline is also used for education and information, even health professionals use it– more than 2,600 calls were for information alone. 

Pets can also be poisoned. The Animal Society for the Prevention for Cruelty to Animal (ASPCA) has an Animal Poison Control Center. Its website and hotline are available year-round with information and lists of poisonous foods, plants and household products for cats, dogs and horses. 

“Safety is always best,” says Dr. Domanski. “When in doubt, call Poison Control 1-800-222-1222.”

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