Children and medicine: Prevent accidental poisonings

Illinois Poison Center experts present tips for caregivers

CHICAGO—Hospital emergency departments in the United States treated an estimated 53,517 children age 4 and younger for accidental exposures to medicine annually from 2001 to 2003, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2005 alone, the Illinois Poison Center (IPC) handled more than 23,000 calls related to medicines involving children 5 years of age and younger.

“Young children are at great risk for accidental poisoning from medicine,” said Dr. Michael Wahl, managing medical director of the Illinois Poison Center. “Children are naturally curious and often mimic adults. They see us take a pill, and then the next opportunity they get, they want to put it in their mouth, too.”

Wahl also notes that some telephone calls to the IPC hotline are related to parents accidentally giving their children more than the recommended dose of a medicine.

Poison center experts urge parents and caregivers to be extra cautious to reduce these types of accidental poisonings, especially now as parents continue to treat their children’s cold and flu symptoms.

Avoid accidental ingestions—store medicines safely

Most accidental poisonings that occur with medicine can be prevented. Many accidental poisonings happen when a child gets into medicine that has been left out and is easily accessible, such as medication left on a nightstand or inside a purse. Take these simple precautions to prevent children from exploring potentially dangerous situations:

Store medicine and vitamins in locked cabinets where children cannot see them or reach them.

Never refer to medicine as candy or make a game out of taking it.

After you use a medicine, put the safety cap back on tightly.

If you keep your medicine in a pillbox or “pill-minder,” remember that these containers are not child-resistant and should be kept out of children’s reach.

Dispose of expired medicines by flushing them down the toilet. Rinse out containers before throwing them away.

Prevent medication mishaps—follow directions

Some medicine-related poisonings occur when parents and other caregivers accidentally give a child the wrong dose of medicine. The following tips will help ensure the correct dosage is given and avoid a potential poisoning:

Adults should give all medicine to young children; never allow children to take it themselves

Understand the directions and follow them exactly. Call your doctor, pharmacist or the Illinois Poison Center if you have any questions.

Know the child’s weight. Doses for many children’s medicines are measured by weight or age.

Always use the measuring device that comes with the medicine or a device that shows exact amounts. Know the difference between a teaspoon (tsp) and a tablespoon (Tbs).

Make sure another caregiver in the household has not already given the child a dose of medicine.

The CDC report

The CDC based its estimated poisonings in children from 2001 to 2003 on records of more than 3,600 children treated at U.S. hospitals for unintended, nonfatal, exposure to medications during that time period. Children exposed to illicit drugs or alcohol were not included in the analysis. Most kids were 1 or 2 years old at the time of the medication mishaps, three-quarters of which happened at home.

Additional medicine safety information

The Illinois Poison Center offers free medicine safety advice on its Web site, under the Poisoning Hazards section. An informative medicine safety brochure and other useful poison prevention information also is included in the IPC’s complimentary packet of poison safety information, which is available to all Illinois residents. Get one today by visiting the poison center Web site or calling the Illinois Poison Center hotline at 1-800-222-1222.

Getting help in an emergency

If you suspect a poisoning, do not wait for symptoms to appear. Contact the Illinois Poison Center immediately at 1-800-222-1222. Post this number in a highly visible and central location year-round.

From the Jan. 25-31, 2006, issue

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