Babies explore the world by putting things in their mouth. That's one reason more than 1 million children under age 6 are victims of accidental poisoning each year. You can help keep your baby safe by identifying and locking up toxic materials and knowing what to do if he or she touches, inhales, or swallows something poisonous.
How can I tell which substances are poisonous?
It's not always obvious what's hazardous and what's not, and poisonous substances may not be in plain sight. Conduct a room-by-room inventory of non-food products, listing anything that's out in the open as well as inside drawers, cupboards, and closets. Then make sure all poisons are clearly labeled and locked out of a child's reach. If you don't know whether a product is poisonous, check the label.
Here are some of the hazardous substances most commonly ingested by children under age 6:
-• cosmetics and personal care products, such as mouthwash, nail products, hair remover, and baby oil (never leave baby oil or similar products within your baby's reach – in a few cases, infants have died from getting baby oil in their lungs)
-• prescription drugs such as heart and blood pressure medications, antidepressants, sleeping pills, diabetes medications, pain medications, and time-release medications
-• cleaning products, including drain cleaner, oven cleaner, toilet bowl cleaner, bleach, dishwasher detergent, furniture polish, and rust remover
-• pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, which are poisonous when taken in large doses (never give a child aspirin, as it can lead to Reye's syndrome, a rare brain and liver disease that can be fatal)
-• cough and cold medicines
-• vitamin supplements, especially iron pills
-• household plants, especially philodendron and holly berries
-• paint thinner, paint remover, kerosene, lighter fluids, antifreeze, and windshield washer fluid
-• lithium "button" batteries (the small batteries found in toys, flashlights, remote controls, watches, musical greeting cards, hearing aids, and other devices)
How can I make sure that my baby doesn't get hold of any harmful substances?
The following tips can help you keep your child safe from poisoning of any sort:
Lock up all medicines and harmful substances.
Secure all cupboards that contain poisons, even those that seem out of reach, with safety latches or locks. Poison experts know of many young children who've dragged a chair over to a kitchen counter, climbed onto the counter or even the refrigerator, and opened a cupboard near the ceiling. Your child may be able to do something like this before you know it.
Get rid of old or expired medications.
Don't flush old medications down the toilet or pour them down the drain, as they can contaminate the water supply. You have to throw the drugs away in the trash – but first be sure to secure them so your baby can't get to them.
Don't rely on child-resistant containers.
Child-resistant doesn't mean childproof. Hopefully, the resistant cap will delay a child's ability to open the container long enough for an adult to discover what's going on and to intervene in time. Remember: No bottle top is ever so secure that a child can't find some way to get it off. "It's not unusual for a 2-year-old, left alone for 30 minutes, to break down the best devices of the manufacturer," warns a pediatrician.
Keep medicines, pesticides, and even detergents in their original containers.
Never put poisonous or toxic products in unlabeled containers or containers that were once used for food. Poison centers have heard too many horror stories about how a toxic liquid in an unmarked container has been mistaken for apple juice.
Move purses, luggage, and grocery bags away from prying hands.
A tube of brightly hued lipstick or a bottle of coated pills can look like candy to a baby. Store your purse on a high shelf, and unpack anything potentially dangerous from your grocery bag before you turn to another task.
Never refer to any kind of medicine as candy.
Even if you're trying to get a reluctant child to take cough syrup, don't treat it as something good to eat. Children learn by imitation, so take your own medicine when your baby isn't watching. Just to be safe, teach him or her never to eat anything without asking an adult first.
Read labels before buying household products, and try to use the least toxic ones.
Among the household products generally considered less hazardous are non-chlorine bleaches, vinegar, borax, and beeswax. Unclog drains with compressed air instead of corrosive liquids.
Always keep a watchful eye on your baby.
Even the most thorough childproofing is no substitute for supervision. Be extra vigilant when visiting the house of a friend or relative, particularly if it hasn't been childproofed.
What should I do if I think my child has swallowed something harmful?
If your baby's unconscious, not breathing, or having a seizure, call your doctor immediately. Otherwise, at the first sign that your child may have been poisoned rush him/her to the nearest hospital.
Note: Pediatrics no longer recommends that you keep syrup of ipecac on hand in case of poisoning, because it hasn't been shown to be effective in preventing poisoning and can potentially be misused.