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Feature Article Is There Danger Lurking in Your Home?

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With mom’s back turned for just a second, and grandpa prepping a load of laundry, Vivian, age 3, picked up a Tide Pod and squeezed the contents into her hair.

“I heard a scream and we saw the Tide Pod dripping into her eye,” said Jen Waters, Vivian’s mom. “Grandma quickly put her under water to flush the chemicals out of her eye while we called 911,” said Jen.

According to the 2016 Annual Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ National Poison Data System, more than one million children under the age of 6 were exposed to poison in 2016, the most recent year data is available. Children in that age bracket made up nearly half of all poison exposures, which took place most often in the home. 

The report found that children are most often exposed to poison from cosmetics and personal care items like fluoride toothpaste, hand sanitizer, and lotion or deodorant, accounting for 13 percent of cases. Household cleaning products like bleach cleaners and laundry detergent were a close second with 11 percent of cases, and accidental overdose of analgesic medication like acetaminophen accounted for 9 percent of cases. 

“Children are curious and often want to copy the things they see adults doing,” said Christopher Dubuque, DO, from Samaritan Internal Medicine – Corvallis. “Paired with the fact that small children often put objects in their mouths, personal care items and household cleaning products are unfortunately a common source of poisoning.”

The effectiveness of child safety packaging has improved the rate of poisoning, but parents (and caregivers) can’t depend solely on the packaging. Research published by the journal Pediatrics found that for cleaning products, those that were in a spray bottle had the highest rate of exposure.

For Vivian, the pod packaging wasn’t enough. The concentrated detergent burned her cornea and caused her eye to swell closed.  After visiting the Emergency Room and her doctor, eye creams to help her cornea heal and eye drops to prevent infection, put her on the road to full recovery.

“It totally healed, but it was very scary,” said Jen. “We stopped buying Tide Pods. Poison Control said pods are a serious problem because they are so concentrated compared to regular detergent. We were just lucky she didn’t eat it.”

Additional research published in the journal Pediatric Emergency Care found that children account for nearly 200,000 emergency department visits a year due to poisoning. 

Although the rates of poisoning for children are disproportionately high compared to the rest of the population, Dubuque notes that extreme injury or fatality is rare.

“It’s important that caregivers know what the child was exposed to and get medical help quickly,” he said.

The holidays can be a particularly troublesome time for poisoning events with children visiting homes of family who may not have household chemicals and medications well secured. With that in mind, Dr. Dubuque offers the following:

Tips for Home Safety

  • Keep cleaning supplies, personal care items and medications up where children can’t reach them, preferably in a locked cabinet.
  • Flavored toothpaste and medicine, and scented cleaning products can be tempting teach preschool age children which items should only be used with adult supervision and which ones are just for grown-ups.
  • If you give your child more than one medication, read labels to make sure you aren’t double dosing on the active ingredient, like acetaminophen in cold and flu medicine.
  • When you give medication, write down the time and dose to help you keep track. This is especially important if there are multiple caregivers.
  • Save the number for the Poison Control Hotline on your phone: 1-800-222-1222.

Learn more about poison prevention and how to childproof your home in our health library.

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