Children and poisons act fast

By Janet Benavente, 2008
Colorado State University
Extension, Adams County

The American Association of Poison Control Centers reports that 1.2 million children under age five were exposed to potentially poisonous substances in 2001. Of those exposed, two of every 100,000 died and many more were injured permanently. Children under age five are most vulnerable to accidental poisoning because they are in the growth and development stages that focus on exploration and investigation of their environment. Young children often rely on taste and touch to learn about new things. In addition, their mobility and ingenuity can increase from day to day.

Crawling children are drawn to things stored in low cabinets and shelves. When children can stand, they can reach things left on low tables and on beds. Cabinets and higher pieces of furniture become accessible as soon as the child can walk and climb. This is why it is recommended that all medicines and non-food substances be locked in the highest cabinets in the home, even those products with safety packaging.

Children can find and swallow dangerous substances in just the time it takes to answer the telephone or the doorbell. One valuable suggestion is to either hold the child or hold any medicine or cleaning product, if you are interrupted by the telephone or doorbell. Never presume that child-resistant packaging can really keep a child from opening the product.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data indicate that one fourth of the oral prescription medication swallowed by children under five belonged to visiting grandparents or other visitors. The EPA also found that one in eight childhood pesticide poisonings occurred when children are away from home. This may be because 75 percent of all households without children under age five have at least one pesticide stored within the reach of children. Furthermore, one half of all households with children under age five, have at least one pesticide in an unlocked cabinet less than four feet off the ground. The Poison Prevention Week Council recommends the following rules to prevent accidental poisoning.

  1. Close all packaging of medicine, cleaning products, lighter fluid, pesticides, and herbicides immediately after use.
  2. Keep all chemicals and medicines in locked upper cabinets.
  3. Call the poison center 1-800-222-1222 if you suspect an accidental poisoning. This is nationwide number that connects directly to an available poison center.
  4. When non-food products are in use, never let young children out of your sight, even if you must take the child or the product with you as you answer the telephone or the doorbell.
  5. Keep all non-food products in their original container.
  6. Leave original labels on containers, and read the label before using.
  7. Do not put decorative lamps, candles, or air fresheners where children can reach them; they're highly toxic.
  8. Always leave the light on when giving or taking medicine. Check dosage every time.
  9. Avoid taking medicine in front of children. Refer to medicine, as "medicine" not candies.
  10. Clean the medicine cabinet often and safely dispose of unneeded medicines. Safe disposal includes pouring contents down the drain or toilet, and rinsing the container before discarding.

If you even suspect that a child or adult has come in contact with potentially dangerous non-food substance, call 1-800-222-1222. Be prepared to give the following information:

  • The victim's age.
  • The victims' weight.
  • Existing health conditions or problems.
  • The substance involved and when and how it contacted the person.
  • Any first aid that may have been given. If the substance was swallowed, do not give anything by mouth until advised by the poison control center.
  • If the person has vomited.
  • How far you are from a hospital.

Remember that some plants, lead paint, miniature "button" batteries, vitamins and beauty care products are included in the list of toxic things commonly found in homes. National Poison Prevention Week occurs each year during the third week of March. It is a great time for communities to raise awareness about unintentional poisonings and to share prevention tips. Go to for more information about poison prevention, the upcoming Poison Prevention Week Campaign, or to order free materials.

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Updated Tuesday, August 05, 2014