Not all poisonous substances come labeled with a skull and crossbones. Some — like a tube of lipstick or small bottle of hand sanitizer — are sitting in plain view, in arm’s reach of children who could innocently consume them. With National Poison Prevention Week beginning March 15, we chatted with the experts at Children’s of Alabama to find out where some of the most commonly consumed (and most dangerous) poisonous substances are located in the home — and how to better safeguard your children from such dangers. You might be surprised what’s hiding in plain view!
From common items found in handbags to outdoor plants, the home is covered in potentially harmful substances that pose lethal side effects if consumed. Ann Slattery, Director of the Alabama Poison Information Center at Children’s of Alabama, is well-versed in these harmful substances which, to the naked eye, could look innocent and ordinary. “There’s nothing that’s completely childproof,” Ann says. “If you give a child enough time, they can open just about anything. The correct way to phrase it, really, is ‘child-resistant.’”
Common areas of the home that are hotbeds for poisonous substances, Ann says, include the bathroom, laundry room and — surprisingly — the playroom. For obvious reasons, the bathroom poses a threat due to medicine cabinets, which, according to Ann, aren’t the best place to store medication in the first place. “Really, the medicine cabinet is the worst place to store your medicine because medication loses its potency when exposed to humidity. And what’s typically the most humid place in the house? The bathroom.”
Instead of storing medicine in unlocked areas in the bathroom, where they could draw attention to a curious child, Ann recommends keeping those pills and syrups in a locked container that’s hidden and out of view.
The laundry room can be another hotspot for potentially dangerous liquids. Namely, bleach and other cleaners could do serious harm if consumed. In Alabama, Ann says, cleaners are the number one culprit when it comes to poison consumption for children under the age of 6. Laundry rooms are also areas where people tend to store pesticides and other harmful substances. All should be located up high, out of reach, and preferably behind a lock.
Next, surprisingly, the playroom can pose a threat when it comes to poison. Batteries found in toys have become a common offender. “Those can be deadly,” Ann says, referencing small “button” batteries that are often found in electronic toys. The best solution to make sure children aren’t tempted to consume these is to make sure toys are secure and battery covers aren’t left open. “Out of sight, out of mind,” Ann says, is always the best policy.
While your home’s four walls are in your control when it comes to safe-proofing against poison, outside substances can also be a threat, Ann points out. Visitors, who come with handbags and luggage, can innocently introduce poisonous substances to the home. A good strategy to safeguard your home from others’ belongings is to provide a safe place for guests to house their belongings on the frontend. “If someone is staying with you for a length of time and they have medication, provide a lockbox on the dresser for them. That way, they can take their medicine out of their bag and simply put their medication in there. Even better, take it one step further and put the lockbox in the closet so it’s out of sight.”
Outside of the home, it’s important to remember that plants can also pose a threat when ingested. With spring right around the corner, Alabama will soon be covered with bright azaleas and blooming hydrangeas, and most of these plants can be toxic to children. It’s important to remind children that these lovely flowers are just for admiring — not eating.
If worse comes to worst, and you suspect that your child has consumed something poisonous, the first step is to keep a clear head and refrain from panicking, Ann says. Next, call the Alabama Poison Information Center hotline at (800) 222-1222. It’s open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. “We have pharmacists and nurses answering our line at all hours,” Ann says. These experts in poison information will ask for basic information — the child’s age, weight, medical history, etc. From there, it will be determined if the child needs to come in for an emergency visit or if the problem can be solved at home. “We are only a phone call away,” Ann says.
For more information, visit www.childrensal.org/apic.