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Tips to protect children from poisoning

HomeNews and Events > Tips to protect children from poisoning

March is National Poison Prevention Month and National Poison Prevention Week is observed March 19-26.

Each year, unintentional poisoning is the cause of death for approximately 100 children aged 14 years and under.

  • Nearly 90 percent of these toxic exposures occur in the home
  • 56 percent involve non-pharmaceutical products such as cosmetics, cleansers, personal care products, plants, pesticides, art supplies, alcohol and toys

Many of these poisonings occur when an adult transfers toxic substances from the original container into another container, such as a soda bottle. Pediatric gastroenterologist Yuliya Rekhtman, M.D., Palmetto Health-USC Pediatric Gastroenterology, has seen a number of toxic ingestions occur when a toddler picks up a soda bottle or cup containing oven cleaner, hair relaxer, toilet bowl cleaner or other caustic substance. “The most important thing parents and caregivers can do is leave products in their original containers and store them up high, out of the reach of children,” she said.

She cautions that it may not be apparent whether a toxic ingestion has occurred just by looking at the child’s mouth because the damage may be in the esophagus. “Damage can be significant, especially with caustic ingestions,” said Rekhtman. “If you suspect your child has swallowed something toxic, do not make the child drink and do not induce vomiting.” 

Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital offers these tips to protect children: 

Laundry detergent packs
In recent news, laundry detergent packs have been of high concern. “In 2017, we had more than 200 calls about laundry pods,” said Palmetto Poison Center Managing Director Jillian Michels. Highly concentrated single-load laundry detergent pods can cause serious harm to children. Serious symptoms include excessive vomiting, wheezing, extreme sleepiness, or even needing the assistance of a ventilator to help them breathe. “These packs are colorful and enticing to small children,” said Michels. “Make sure detergent packs are locked up, high and out of the reach of children.”

One pill can kill
Acetaminophen products (such as Tylenol) are the No. 1 toxic ingestion item. Do not leave medicine in a purse or on a counter. In the case of certain prescription medications – one pill can kill. Prescription narcotics such as hydrocodone, oxycodone and methadone are among these dangerous pain medications. Keep medications out of the reach of children.

Button batteries
Tiny button batteries are used in watches, calculators, cameras, hearing aids, musical greeting cards, flameless candles, small toys, electronics and promotional items. Certain items are very easy for a child to break open and find the battery. Miniature batteries may cause poisoning if swallowed and also can cause internal burns if they become lodged in the esophagus or intestinal tract. If you suspect a child has swallowed a battery of any type, seek immediate medical attention.

Small magnets can seriously injure a child if two or more are swallowed, because they can connect to one another through the intestinal walls. This traps the magnets in place and can cause perforations, twisting and/or blockage of the intestines, infection and potentially fatal blood poisoning. Surgery usually is required to remove the magnets.

Caustic chemicals
Ingestions of caustic household powders and liquids can cause serious burns in the mouth and esophagus. Caustic substances include detergents, pool cleaning chemicals, drain cleaners, hair relaxers, fertilizers, weed killers and many types of cleaning products. A burn in the esophagus can cause life-long problems.

Tips to protect your child:

  • Put change in a piggy bank and store the bank out of reach.
  • Keep jewelry boxes, cosmetics and toolboxes tightly closed and out of reach.
  • Keep items like toothpicks, razors, safety pins, buttons, nails and small toys out of reach.
  • Periodically check floors, beds, tables, sofas and chairs for any items a child could swallow.
  • When you buy a device that uses batteries, check to see that the battery compartment cannot easily be opened. Tape it shut if necessary.
  • Use a cardboard toilet paper roll to test small items for choking hazards. Place the toy – without compressing it – into the tube. If the object fits entirely within the tube in any fashion, do not give the item to a child under the age of 3 or to any child who still puts items in the mouth.
  • Keep household chemicals and gardening products out of the reach of children.

Warning signs of ingesting a foreign object include gagging, drooling and sometimes coughing. An ingested object can potentially obstruct a child’s air passage.

If your child has swallowed a foreign object or substance:

  • If the child is choking and/or turning blue, call 911 immediately.
  • If initial choking distress has passed, contact your pediatrician for instructions.
  • Observe the child closely. A coin or object can be lodged in the esophagus for days.
  • Do not feed the child or administer liquids. This will make the object lodge farther down.If your child ingests a poisonous substance, call the Palmetto Poison Center (PPC) immediately at 1-800-222-1222.

The PPC offers assistance 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The PPC is staffed by health care professionals, including pharmacists and nurses, who are formally trained in toxicology as specialists in poison information. Visit for more information. Take a moment to add the PPC phone number to your contacts: 1-800-222-1222.

About Palmetto Health Children's Hospital
Palmetto Health Children's Hospital is South Carolina’s first children's hospital and has more than 150,000 children’s visits each year. It offers more than 30 subspecialties to meet the unique health care needs of children and has central South Carolina's only Children’s Emergency Center. With more than 350 professionals who work exclusively with children, Palmetto Health Children's Hospital has a team of highly skilled and trained experts unmatched by any hospital in the Midlands. Palmetto Health Children's Hospital is the place to go for children's medical care, because the best care matters.

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