When to Call Poison Control

Parents’ attention is pulled in multiple directions all throughout the day. Busy toddlers, curious babies, working from home, or other circumstances make it hard to keep an eye on your curious little ones constantly. Read on to identify poisonous substances in your home and learn when you should call poison control.

Key takeaways:

In 2020, most calls to poison control centers were for the age group of children two years old or younger. The second most common age group included adolescents to young adults age 13 to 29 years old. Consider what a safe home for your children looks like at different ages and stages. While it’s most important to prevent poisonings from occurring, it’s equally important to be prepared and know how to respond if you suspect poisoning.

How to be prepared

Know how to contact poison control. You can do so confidentially and at no cost by:

  • Calling them directly at 1-800-222-1222.
  • Using the online webPOISONCONTROL tool.

Create emergency contacts in your phone and write down important phone numbers to keep easily accessible at home:

  • Pediatrician's office.
  • Poison control.
  • Local ambulance provider, if your area's 911 service does not directly dispatch ambulances.

How to prevent poisonings

Poisonings in young children are primarily accidental and unintentional, occurring when parents are home but not paying attention. The best way to prevent accidents from happening is by identifying potentially toxic substances in your home and then preventing access to them. The most dangerous and accessible poisons are medicines, button batteries, cleaning products, nicotine, pesticides, gasoline, and car fluids such as antifreeze and windshield wiper fluid. Of course, there are many more household items that can cause harm.

Different substances require different types of storage. Here are some recommended storage and prevention methods:

  1. Locked cabinets. Medicine, cleaning products and laundry detergent should be stored out of sight and out of reach. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using liquid or powder detergents, rather than pods, until all children in the household are greater than six years old.
  2. Safety latches. While there is a risk of door latch devices malfunctioning, they can be a helpful tool if you don’t have alternate storage options.
  3. Safety caps. Place safety caps on all medications. If you are no longer using medications, dispose of them safely. Check out the FDA website for medication take-back programs or a list of what is safe to flush down the toilet versus disposal in your garbage.
  4. Medication doses. Always check the label before giving your child medication to ensure that you know the correct dose and are measuring and administering it correctly. Do not refer to medicine as “candy”.
  5. Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. These should be kept in working order.
  6. Identify button battery devices. Remote controls, key fobs, watches, flameless candles, musical children’s books, and small alarm clocks are just a few examples of devices powered by button batteries. Swallowing one can cause significant damage to your child’s airway by burning a hole in the esophagus in just two hours.
  7. Know the names of your houseplants. Kid-proofing your house isn’t just about cleaning supplies and chemical fluids; don’t forget about houseplants. Make sure you know the names of your houseplants so that, if you suspect your child has eaten a house plant, you can tell Poison Control the name. Many houseplants are toxic if all or even part of the plant is eaten. These include common houseplants such as philodendrons, pothos, and oleander.

If you suspect poisoning

If your child is having a seizure, convulsions, or is unconscious or not breathing call 911 immediately.

Other signs of poisoning requiring immediate help:

  • Drowsiness.
  • Sudden behavior changes.
  • Vomiting.
  • Drooling.
  • Confusion.

If you suspect poison ingestion but your child is breathing and acting normally, contact poison control by calling or using the online tool for help.

  • For swallowed liquids. Do not make your child vomit and do not use ipecac.
  • For swallowed button battery. Do not finger sweep in their mouth. Go to the emergency department immediately.
  • Poison in the eye. Rinse their eyes with room temperature water for 15 minutes.
  • Inhaled poison. Take your child outside to fresh air and monitor for any breathing or mental changes.

There are many potentially harmful household products. The best thing parents can do to prevent poisoning in their child is to limit the number of harmful substances, and keep them locked and out of reach. If you suspect poisoning, seek immediate help by going to the emergency department or contacting Poison Control.

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