How to Prevent Poisonings
in Your Home
As consumers, we buy more than a quarter of a
million different household products -- materials used in and around the home
for medication, cleaning, cosmetic purposes, exterminating insects and killing
weeds. These items are valuable in the home and for yard maintenance, but
misuse, especially when products are used in inappropriate applications or
quantities, can cause illness, injury and even death.
Each year more than 6,000 persons die and an estimated 300,000 suffer
disabling illnesses as a result of unintentional poisoning by solid and liquid
substances. Unintentional poisonings can happen to anyone, at any time, in any
Home unintentional poisonings, however, can be prevented. While
child-resistant packaging has greatly reduced the number of fatalities among
children under five years of age, parents, grandparents and other caregivers
must still be cautious. Following label directions for all products including
medication dosages and proper storage of potential toxic products are important
precautions to heed.
- Poisonings from solids and liquids such as drugs, medicines, poisonous
houseplants, and commonly recognized poisons caused 6,300 deaths in the home
in 1998 alone.
- An additional 500 deaths in the home in 1998 were due to poisonings from
gases and vapors such as carbon monoxide.
- These deaths are not all among children. Another age group at risk is
adults age 25 through 44. Many adults are unintentionally poisoned when they
do not follow label directions on medications or household chemicals.
You can keep yourself and family members safer by being aware of potential
hazards and observing these suggestions from the National Safety Council on ways
to poison-proof your home.
- Have a "child-proof" section that locks. Even if your medicine
cabinet is "high-up," youngsters are inquisitive and avid
climbers. They can easily reach a cabinet by climbing from the toilet (or
other convenient object) to the sink and thus reach into the cabinet.
- Keep medication lids tightly closed. A child-resistant cap is meaningless
if not properly fastened after each use.
- Never take medication in front of a child, or refer to pills as candy.
Kids often mimic adults. Also, something that tastes awful to an adult may
not faze a small child. They swallow almost everything.
- Always follow the recommended dosage set forth by your doctor for all
- Mothballs and crystals should be hung in containers. If such products are
used in closets or chests, they should be out of the reach of toddlers.
- If children are present, it is best if dressing table and vanity
personal-care items are not kept in the open. Hair spray, cologne, perfumes,
nail polish remover, nail glue remover, and astringents should be kept where
children can't get into them.
- Be wary of visitors. People who visit may carry medications in coat
pockets, jackets and purses are the perfect hunting grounds for a curious
child. Hang garments where children are not likely to get at them.
- Children may be exposed to different lead sources in your home. Small
children may chew on window sills, eat paint chips and/or suck on their
hands, exposing themselves to lead dust. Older furniture, such as cribs,
play pens, chairs, etc. and painted toys may also contain lead-based paint.
Lead poisoning is a serious medical problem. See our lead
poisoning fact sheet for more information.
- Check under the sink and low cabinet shelves. Look for stored products
that could be hazardous when accessible to young children. These could
include such items as bleaching agents, rust removers, drain cleaners,
ammonia, oven cleaners, detergents, furniture polish, floor wax, metal
polish, wax remover and wall/floor/toilet bowl cleaners. Even food extracts,
such as vanilla and almond, are potential poisons. If products cannot be
moved, install safety latches on the lower cupboard doors to keep
inquisitive youngsters out.
- Cleaning compounds and foods must never be stored on the same shelf. One
item might be mistaken for another.
- Keep all substances in their original containers. Using beverage bottles
or cans for storing cleaning fluids, liquid floor wax and other household
mixtures is very hazardous. Children, and even adults, might mistake the
contents for the original beverage. Also, labels on original containers
often give first aid information if someone should swallow the product.
- Keep potentially hazardous cleaning compounds capped while using. Do not
leave the unattended container uncapped for even "just a minute"
if toddlers are present.
- Use safety latches or combination locks to prevent curious children from
getting into cabinets and drawers. Don't let children watch you open
combinations to them. Kids learn fast.
- Many poisonings to youngsters happen when the household routine has been
interrupted. Examples of such changes include: when a parent is ill; when a
family is moving; when a family is on a trip; when there is a guest in the
home; when there is family tension; when seasonal products are in use. In
addition, hungry or tired children are prone to put the first available
object they find into their mouths.
- Keep the numbers of your local poison control center, family doctor and
hospital emergency room posted near the telephone.
- For handling poisonings and other emergencies, everyone should be trained
in First Aid.