Preventing accidental household poisonings

With children staying home right now because of the isolation necessary to defeat the coronavirus, home safety becomes a priority. Last week, I shared a number of tips to keep homes safe by preventing falls, burns and firearm injuries, but this week, I’m dosing out additional information on household accidental poisonings and how to prevent these from occurring.

Reduce your child’s risk

Nearly 90% of all childhood poisonings happen in the home. Here are some suggestions to prevent your child from adding to those statistics:

¯ Keep all medications, prescription and nonprescription, in securely latched and locked cabinets. Child-resistant packaging does not mean a product is child-proof, so please lock up your medications.

¯ Items that might seem harmless, like mouthwash, can be dangerous if taken in large quantities by children, as can too much fluoride from eating toothpaste.

¯ Keep all bathroom items, not just medications, secure and out of reach of children.

¯ Never tell a child that a medicine tastes like candy, or they will do what they can to find that medicine when you are not around and take it. Instead call medicine medicine and candy candy.

¯ Keep all cleaning products and alcoholic beverages locked up and out of reach (and not easily available under the kitchen sink).

¯ Never put cleaning products into containers once used for food or drink, so your child doesn’t accidentally eat or drink them.

Some relatively newer, but still dangerous, hazards in the home are the very small disc batteries left out from electronic toys. Also, toy or tiny magnets often found on desktops or refrigerators. Both of these items can be very dangerous and even life-threatening if ingested, so store unused disc batteries and small magnets away from small children. You do not want to risk leaving them out for children to swallow, thinking they are candy.

How to tell if your child’s taken something

If your child has gotten into something — it will not be subtle — you are apt to see a change in behavior, extreme drowsiness, an unusual odor on their breath, excessive drooling, vomiting and/or belly pain.

If you suspect that your child has gotten into something they shouldn’t have, and is still alert, then stay calm and contact the Northern New England or Upstate New York Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 for further instructions. If your child is not alert, then call 911 for immediate help.

Hopefully, you’ll find tips like these to be safe and easy to swallow when it comes to knowing what you can do to prevent accidental poisonings in your home, not just during the coronavirus pandemic, but every day of the year.


Lewis First, MD, is chief of pediatrics at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and NBC5.


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