Question of the Week

March 6, 2006


You may have heard the expression, "It's too quiet." Parents with small children often get nervous when they cannot see (or hear) what their children are doing. While quiet may signal a peaceful child who has learned to play alone, the question of what that child has found as a source of entertainment is an important issue. As a babysitter, older sibling, or caregiver of any sort, it is important to frequently check on children -- especially if all is quiet.

"Children love to explore! Young children cannot determine if something is poisonous or not. Imagine how confusing the world can be to a child that cannot read. If a child's favorite drink is blue Koolaid and a bottle of Windex is left on the counter within his reach, he/she will probably drink it based on the color alone. It looks familiar to him/her. A small child can easily mistake a cleaning product, medicine and/or personal grooming supplies as something to eat or drink. ... There are many medicines that look like candy, including vitamins and cold medicine."
(The above web page includes pictures of products in side by side comparisons.)

While it can be difficult for those who can not read to know what a product is, it can be made even more difficult if the product is in a container that looks "safe" to a child.

Never place kerosene, anti-freeze, paints, or solvents in cups, glasses, milk or soft-drink bottles, or other utensils customarily used for food or drinks. Never transfer products to a bottle without a child-resistant closure."

Child-resistant closures are not perfect, and accidents happen. But every precaution taken can help reduce the number of injuries children suffer each year.

"A 2-year-old child in Fitchburg went to St. Mary's Hospital after drinking a small amount of bleach. The incident happened ... when the child's mother borrowed a cup of bleach from a neighbor and set it on the counter ... most childhood poisonings happen while a product is being used by an adult. In these cases, experts said that even the best child-resistant lids don't help because they're usually not on or not on securely. Even when these lids are on containers and meet federal standards, Donna Lotzer, poison education coordinator at the University of Wisconsin Hospital Poison Prevention Education Center, said that the lids aren't absolute protection. 'It's supposed to take enough time so that the adult, who is hopefully nearby, can find out what's going on and stop them from gaining access to the container,' Lotzer said."

No potentially dangerous product is made completely "child safe" through the wonders of packaging. When a product is sealed correctly, it can slow down the process. When a product is not sealed correctly, it can provide a false sense of security for the caregiver. When a product is out for use, any "child safety" packaging is removed so that the adult can access the product -- and so can a child....

"Medicines (especially iron pills and food supplements containing iron), household substances, insect sprays, kerosene, lighter fluid, some furniture polishes, turpentine, points, solvents, and products containing lye and acids are most frequently the cause of accidental poisoning among children."

While some products may be easier to distinguish as potential dangers, others can be more difficult, especially for children. Products (such as vitamins) children know are okay to eat. When these products look (or taste) like candy, caregivers need to be especially careful to help children understand the the potential dangers when one has "too much of a good thing."

"Childhood poisonings caused by accidental overdoses of iron-containing supplements are the biggest concern of poison control experts, consumer protection groups, and health-care providers. Iron-containing supplements are the leading cause of pediatric poisoning deaths for children under 6 in the United States. ... Although iron poisoning is the biggest concern when it comes to childhood poisoning, there is also concern about other drugs. 'Over-the-counter [OTC] diet pills have the potential to be lethal to children, as do OTC stimulants used to keep you awake and decongestant tablets,' says George C. Rodgers, M.D., Ph.D., medical director of the Kentucky Regional Poisoning Center. ... 'Antidepressant drugs have a high degree of toxicity,' he continues. 'They are cardiac and central nervous system toxins, and it doesn't take much of them to do harm, particularly in children.' ... The marketing of pediatric vitamins is also a cause of concern for Rodgers. 'Because they're marketed to look like candy or cartoon characters, it looks like candy and doesn't seem like medicine,' he explains. In addition, children frequently mimic the behavior of their parents. Children who watch their parents take pills may want to do it, too--with potentially fatal results.'"

With latches and lids to slow them down, some parents may think that children will not get into unsafe products if they are properly sealed. In fact, these lids can slow down curious children -- or they can offer a challenge to the determined child. Potentially dangerous products need to be more than just sealed with a "child safe" lid.

"Keeping medications out of the easy grasp of children four and younger in the home is a significant health issue in the United States because they are more likely to be hospitalized for unintentionally swallowing medications than other causes of unintentional injury, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in a report released today. ... Also, over 550,000 incidents involving medications are reported each year for children under age six. For these reasons parents and others who are responsible for supervising children should remain vigilant in protecting children from inadvertent access to medications."

"[P]arents and others who are responsible for supervising children should remain vigilant..."

"*When possible, keep the medicines in their original containers. If medicines are transferred to other containers, be extra vigilant to ensure children do not have access to them. If you store medicines in your purse or a pill box, make sure that children do not have access.
*Discard all unused medicines by flushing down the toilet.
* Avoid taking medicines in front of children, because they tend to imitate adults. Do not call any medicine 'candy.'
* Make sure your visitors do not leave their medicines where children can easily find them.
* Post the poison control number 1-800-222-1222 on or near every phone at home. Put it in your speed dial on your mobile phone."

Even the most careful caregiver can make a mistake. Another reason to keep medications and potentially hazardous materials in their original containers is so that it is easy for anyone who is caring for the child to tell what the child has gotten into if there is a concern.

"If you see a bottle of pills or some other dangerous product standing open or partially spilled, your child may have gotten into it and become poisoned. Unusual symptoms that may accompany poisoning include:
* Sleepiness even though it's not nap time
* Inability to follow you with his or her eyes
* Burns or stains around the mouth
* Strange-smelling breath"

If a caregiver has any concerns or suspicions, it is important to get help as soon as possible.

"If your child is unconscious, having convulsions or having difficulty breathing, call 911 immediately or take him or her to the closest hospital emergency room. If your child is conscious, call 1-800-222-1222 and you will be automatically routed to your local poison control
center. Have the following information ready:
* Your child's age and weight
* Descriptions of contents and other facts printed on product containers or medicine bottles
* Time that the poisoning may have occurred
* Your telephone number"

Questions of the Week:
How can you (or anyone) know when to call 911 verses when to call poison control? What do you, your peers, and your family members need to know about potential hazards in your home, or in the homes of those you visit? What might people have in their backpacks or purses that might cause a problem if they were to visit a home where there were small children? In what situations would it make a difference where products and medications are stored in your home if you do not have young children living with you? Do you think your peers and family members -- or those for whom you babysit -- are aware of the potential dangers in their homes? How would you educate people about these potential hazards?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

[email protected]
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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