Preventing poisoning in young children

If you have a possible poisoning emergency, call 1-800-222-1222 and you will be automatically transferred to the closest poison control center.

Many of the items in our homes can be poisonous to children—household cleaners, medicines, cosmetics, garden products, and houseplants. If these items are not kept out of reach, your child could swallow, inhale, or eat these toxic substances or get them on his or her skin.

Young children have the highest risk of poisoning because of their natural curiosity. Products that are poisonous to children can also harm pets.

Use the following tips to keep dangerous products or items away from children.

Preventing poisoning

  • Never leave a poisonous product unattended, even for a moment. Many poisonings occur when an adult becomes distracted by the doorbell, a telephone, or some other interruption.
  • Keep household plants out of reach. Many are poisonous if they are chewed or ingested.
  • Use childproof latches on your cupboards. And be careful of what you store in your bedside table and other cupboards that are lower than your shoulder height.
  • Keep products in their original labeled containers. Never store poisonous products in food containers.
  • Use "Mr. Yuk" stickers and teach your children to recognize them. These stickers are available from your local poison control center or hospital.
  • Post the phone number to the poison control center or emergency room by every phone in the house.
  • Purchase only items that are in child-resistant containers.
  • Choose the least hazardous product available for the job.
  • Choose multi-use products to cut down on the number of different chemicals around your house.
  • Use the smallest quantity necessary in the lowest-risk form.
  • Read product labels for caution statements, how to use the product correctly, and first aid instructions. Common poisonous substances include:
    • Cosmetics, nail care products, and perfumes.
    • Arts and crafts products, such as glue.
    • Bleach, dishwater detergent, drain and toilet bowl cleaners, furniture polish, and other cleaning products.
    • Windshield washer fluid and antifreeze.
    • Turpentine products, kerosene, lye, lighter fluid, and paint thinners and solvents.
    • Garden products, especially products that kill insects, pests, or weeds.
    • Batteries and mothballs.

Even toys sometimes contain lead. In 2007, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) found high lead content in many children’s toys and jewelry made in other countries. For a complete list of recalled products, see the CPSC Web site at www.cpsc.gov.

House and garden poisons

  • Keep products completely out of the reach and sight of children. Do not keep poisons, such as drain opener, detergent, oven cleaner, or plant food, under your kitchen sink.
  • Look for words that signal the level of poison danger in pesticide products. The word "Caution" on a pesticide label means the product is slightly toxic. The word "Warning" means the product is moderately toxic. And the word "Danger" means the product is highly toxic.1 For more information, go to the National Pesticide Information Center Web site at www.npic.orst.edu.
  • Use only nontoxic arts and crafts materials.
  • Have your home tested for levels of lead in case lead paint may still be present.
  • Don't forget your garage when poison-proofing your home. Keep poisons and flammables out of reach of children. For example, kerosene, lamp oil, gasoline, and fertilizers are all poisonous when ingested. Many products kept in garages also are fire hazards.

Alcohol and medicines

  • Keep alcohol, medicines (including vitamins), cigarettes, and dietary supplements out of the sight and reach of children. Aspirin is a common source of childhood poisoning, especially flavored "baby" aspirin. And children sometimes eat cigarettes.
  • Do not take medicine in front of your young child. Children like to mimic adult actions. They may eat something inappropriate in an attempt to be like you.
  • Educate your children about the effects of alcohol and medicines.
  • Never call medicines "candy."
  • Keep medicines in their original labeled containers.
  • Buy over-the-counter medicines that have child-resistant packages.
  • Check the expiration dates on medicines. Mix old medicines into coffee grounds or cat litter and put them in the trash. Don't flush them down the toilet.

Chemicals and fumes

  • Never mix chemicals.
  • Keep cleaners or chemicals in their original container.
  • Only use chemicals in well-ventilated areas.

Citations

  1. National Pesticide Information Center (accessed November 2008). Signal words. Available online: http://www.npic.orst.edu/factsheets/signalwords.pdf.

Last Updated: December 3, 2008

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