Young children have a tendency to put things in their mouths, leaving parents such as Stacey Eicher, of Mifflinburg, scrambling to make sure everyone is OK.
“Our kids have gotten into things like homemade slime, house plants and a few other things that make you wonder if they’ll be OK,” she said. “I’ve called the poison control center several times, and thankfully — in each instance — they were fine.”
That didn’t make those moments any less scary for Eicher.
“Each call was very stressful,” she said. “No parent wants to make that call, but you also want to make sure your kids are OK.”
Young children make up the majority of the poisoning situations Deb Erdman sees at Geisinger
“More than half are kids under the age of six. They accidentally ingest something — a pill, a cleaning chemical, something else that gets their curiosity,” she said. “Most of those situations involve items out of their original packaging.”
Manufacturers don’t make it any easier for parents, Erdman added.
“There are so many lookalikes out there,” she said. “They make kids vitamins out of gummy bears. Take a red M&M and put it next to a coated Motrin — they are very similar. A Tic Tac looks a whole lot like a Benadryl pill.”
Another item that has caused quite a bit of issues for children who are quick to chew on various things — button batteries.
“If they get swallowed, they can cause quite a bit of destruction within minutes or hours,” said Dr. Kevin McNamara, of Evangelical Community Hospital. “Other items that can cause quick damage include sharp objects and magnets, which can get stuck together in the digestive tract and lead to major problems.”
The key is to keep items in their original containers and properly secure items and substances that can be harmful.
“You look at liquid blue Gatorade and then a bottle of Windex, and you realize how quickly someone can make a mistake if not in the original packaging,” said Erdman. “Of course, many times we are talking about young children that can’t yet read, so keeping cleaners, medications and other caustic substances locked up is very important.”
That includes child-proofing — or at least being cautious — in the homes where a child may be visiting.
“These scenarios don’t happen as much at home with mom or dad, but at grandma’s house or another relative that may not be used to having kids around all the time,” said McNamara. “Blood pressure meds, diabetes treatments and pain meds can be especially harmful even in small doses. It can lead to death pretty quickly.”
Recognizing that a child may have ingested something poisonous starts with being aware of your child’s demeanor, according to Dr. Yechiel Reit.
“What does your child look like — is he awake, breathing normally, is the color good? Is he acting normal, or does he seem drowsy and less responsive than normal? Questions like these along with any symptoms reported by the child such as stomach pain, vomiting, etc., can give you important red flags,” he said.
Environmental factors can also provide important clues,” said McNamara.
“If you see an open pill bottle or there are pills on the ground or there is an open bottle of some other substance that can be harmful, that is a huge tip-off that something may have been ingested,” he said. “When you see a rapid decline in your child combined with environmental clues, it can give you a better picture of what may be going on and more details you can provide a medical professional.”
Responding quickly to the situation is critical, Reit added.
“Depending on what was ingested, timing can be critical,” he said. “If a child is immediately symptomatic, it isn’t the time to call poison control — instead call 911 right away.”
That isn’t to say poison control isn’t useful in potential circumstances like this, McNamara admitted.
“It is a great resource. They deal with this stuff all the time. If someone comes to the ER with a potential poisoning, we usually are calling poison control, too,” he said. “However, if someone is having advanced symptoms, such as shortness of breath, not acting right or already pretty sick, get to the ER and we can figure it out from there.”
The number for the poison control center should be posted by every phone in your house, Erdman suggested. It is 1-800-222-1222.
Make sure to gather as much information for the doctors as possible — try to figure out what was taken, how much was taken and bring the container with you to the hospital if you can, suggested Reit.
As a parent, despite the urge to panic, it is important to keep your cool during this sort of emergency, Erdman added.
“The best thing you can do is remain as calm as possible. If you are with someone else, have them make the call while you console your child or take steps to calm yourself down,” she said. “If you are unable to keep the child calm, try to get someone else to help.”
One drastic change in the treatment of poisonings is that medical professionals encourage people to not induce vomiting in most cases.
“If you induce vomiting, whatever they took could mix with gastric contents and be even more lethal than it was previously, plus there is an added chance the child inhales the substance and it could be even more toxic to the lung tissue than to the stomach,” Erdman said. “If the child is already vomiting, let them vomit. However, we don’t encourage inducing vomiting anymore in these situations unless it is a special circumstance.”
Prevention is key
Ultimately, the best way to deal with these situations is to not be in them in the first place. While that can be unavoidable at times, all three physicians reiterated the importance of keeping items in their original containers and securing potentially harmful substances.
Proper medication dosage is also important.
“If you get a measuring tool with a medication — like the cups they usually give with children’s liquid meds — make sure you use it. Not everyone’s teaspoon in the utensil drawer is the same size,” she said. “Also, don’t ever use someone else’s medication. What might be meant for your 12-year-old may not be safe for your 3-year-old.”
How you refer to things around your children can also develop safer boundaries, she added.
“Don’t call medication candy or joke around about it as something they can just take,” she said.
It can be somewhat helpful for parents to keep things in perspective when dealing with these sort of situations, Reit suggested.
“In most cases, an overwhelming number of accidental poisonings turn out OK,” he said. “However, even a small chance of something severe is something any parent wants to avoid if possible.”