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Take steps to protect children from accidental poisoning

April 01, 2005|by Lynn Little

Vitamin supplements seem healthy, but can be dangerous when in the wrong hands. Children watching parents or grandparents take the supplements might mimic the adults and do the same - or mistake them for candy and eat several. Either can be toxic. Consume your medicines where children can't watch.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that supplements containing iron are the number one cause of fatal poisoning in children younger than 4 years old. Antidepressants also can be dangerous.

Poison control centers in the United States report about 1 million telephone calls annually from adults seeking help with children who have swallowed potentially harmful substances.

If you have young children in your home or have young children visit, here are tips to help protect children from accidental poisoning:

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· Choose and use child-resistant packaging.

· Keep pills and hazardous substances in their original containers with identifying labels. Is it medicine? Call it medicine - not candy.

· Close containers promptly after each use. Take the product or medicine with you to answer the door or the phone.

· Childproof your home. Lock vitamin and mineral supplements, medications and household products out of sight and out of reach of children.

· Post the poison control center number (1-800-222-1222) where it will be readily available. Timing is everything. If you suspect that a child has come in contact with or consumed a hazardous substance, call the Poison Control Center immediately. The 800 number rings to a poison control toxicologist who will ask the victim's age, weight, existing health conditions and details about the substance and exposure to it.

· If a child is unconscious, having difficulty breathing or convulsions, follow first-aid guidelines, and call 911 or the local emergency service immediately.

· Read labels and warnings when buying and using household products such as paint, paint thinner, glue, art supplies, insect repellent, cleaning, lawn and garden and pet products. Try to choose the least toxic products you can find.

· Seemingly safe household products, like an extra bottle of windshield washer fluid, mouthwash or cologne, may seem a colorful beverage to a child. If mouthwash or cologne contains alcohol, a child who ingests it might suffer seizures, a coma or death. Teach children to ask an adult before eating or drinking anything. Poisons can look like food or drink.

· Do your homework before selecting house plants or other landscape or garden plants. If ingested, a daffodil bulb can be toxic. Leaves and flowers of Lily-of-the-Valley can cause an irregular heartbeat and pulse, digestive upset and mental confusion, and consuming the leaf blade of rhubarb can cause convulsions, coma, followed rapidly by death. For a listing of poisonous plants on the Web, you can check the site at aggiehorticulture.tamu.edu/plantanswers/publications/poison/poison.html.

For more information about chemicals in the home, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers "Learn About Chemicals Around Your House" at www.epa.gov/pesticides/kids/hometour/tour.htm on the Web. The site is recommended for children age 9 and older, parents and teachers.

Unintentional poisonings can happen to anyone, at any time, in many situations, but poisonings can be prevented. You should be aware of potential hazards and look for ways to poison-proof your home. Send a self-addressed, stamped (37) business-size envelope to Maryland Cooperative Extension - Washington County Office, 7303 Sharpsburg Pike, Boonsboro, MD 21713 for a checklist for poisons and poison prevention tips. Mark the envelope, "Poison prevention."

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