Poison Control and Child Safety

Poison Control and Child Safety

You experience abject fear and relentless guilt.

The former grabs you when you realize that your kid has swallowed or drunk something potentially dangerous.  What is it?  When did this happen?  Could she die?

Then the latter hits.  How could I be such a god-forsaken, ignorant, lazy fool for letting this happen?

So what do I do?  Who do I call?  911?  Not necessarily, because the people that they’ll call are at a regional Poison Control Center.

So Just What Is Poison Control?

As a parent, your first introduction to them is probably through the bright green “Mr. Yuk” stickers that came from your pediatrician or maternity ward.  And if you’re paying attention – and fortunate – that will be your last

Created to provide toxicology information for medical emergencies, there are more than 60 Poison Control Centers in the country and each is responsible for a particular region.  Each is staffed by trained specialists, frequently nurses or pharmacists, and has access to a computerized database of natural and toxicological substances.  It is surprising that there is no automatic government funding for these Centers.  Each must obtain its individual funding separately through applications for federal and state grants, medical center affiliations and individual donations.

What You Need to Know About Poisons and Your Child

Trust me, a poisoning event – either through chemical or natural substances – can happen to your child.  It’s happened to my family twice in 13 years.

First, there is only one phone number for all the Centers and it isn’t 911.  Mark this:


Several years ago, the Centers adopted phone technology which reads the incoming area code and automatically routes the call to the appropriate Poison Control Center.  While all have the same toxicology information available, each has a better grasp of what local hospitals and resources are available in their particular region.

According to Dr. Allison Muller, Clinical Director of the Poison Control Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, her center alone averages 80,000 exposure calls annually for the region of Delaware and Eastern Pennsylvania.  In her experience at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, there are three key things for parents to understand.

First, do not underestimate the speed and resourcefulness of your small child.  A toddler is eminently able to reach high places and enter remote cabinets when he puts his mind to it.  Having all of the prescriptions and other medications in a separate cabinet simply isn’t sufficient.

Second, even a child-proof/resistant cap can be beaten and might only provide a few minutes of difficulty before your child is into it.  Knowing these facts, Dr. Muller keeps her home medicines stored in a locked toolbox.

Third, keep all liquids in their original marked containers and don’t store excess of refills in other containers.  Dr. Muller cited a call in which a toddler was unwittingly served dilute windshield washer fluid as a snack drink when it was stored in a juice bottle and inadvertently placed in the refrigerator.  The child fortunately survived.

So What Should You Expect When You Call Poison Control?

Most bottle warnings tell you to either contact your physician or Poison Control if the contents are ingested.  According to Dr. Muller, a Doctor of Pharmacy and toxicologist, the first call should be to the Poison Control Center as time is essential and you’re already there with the bottle or material.  If however, you believe that immediate medical attention is required, call 911.

You can expect such questions as your child’s age and condition at the moment, what was ingested, when it was ingested and how much was ingested.  Dr. Muller outlined a scenario for a child who drank from an adult formula Dimetapp bottle.

Q:  How much did she drink?

A:  I don’t know.

Q:  Okay, what’s the size of the bottle?  How much does it contain at purchase?

A:  The label says 4 ounces.

Q:  How much is in the bottle now?

A:  Umm, maybe a third?

Q:  Alright then, how much was in it to begin with?

A:  I don’t know.  I’m not sure.

Q:  I want you to add a teaspoon of water to the bottle – count the number that it takes – to bring the level back to where you thought it was.

A:  (After a pause) Five teaspoons.

With this, the specialist can estimate how much the child drank and outline whatever course of action is appropriate.  If you’re directed to a physician or hospital, be sure to take along the bottle for the staff to review.

Practical Home Tips for Kids and Poison Safety

1.       Keep all medications secured in a locked place.

2.       Keep all liquids in their original containers.

3.       Know what’s planted in your yard.

       a.       If you plant something, keep the identifying tag available in case it’s eaten.

       b.      If you move into a new home and have small children, identify what’s planted in your yard.  I removed a vine plant growing from under a corner bush after a neighbor identified it as Nightshade.

4.        Let  your kids only use paints marked as non-toxic and keep them separate from adult paints.  Keep model-kit paints (oil-based) and supplies in a separate box from other children’s art supplies.

5.       If you’re using cleaning supplies and are called away to the door or phone, take your child with you or gate them away from the supplies.  Never leave a child alone with cleaning supplies.

Watch, watch, watch.  And good luck.

Thanks to Dr. Allison Muller, Director of the Poison Control Center, Childrens’ Hospital of Philadelphia, for her assistance.

For further information, visit the Childrens’ Hospital of Philadelphia Poison Control site at www.poisoncontrol.chop.edu

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