Break Point!

Volume 3, Issue 3 View the Archives March, 2000
Unintentional Poisoning: A Prevention Guide
Grandparents Need to Protect Grandchildren from Poisons
Household Hazards Throughout the Home
Poison or Candy? You Decide
Should We Be Concerned About Lead Poisoning?
Educate Yourself About Inhalants Before Your Kids Do
Next Month in Injury Prevention

Unintentional Poisoning: A Prevention Guide

Kathy O'Day
Loyola University Burn and Shock Trauma Institute, Injury Prevention Program

Poisoning is not a hot topic in the news yet thousands of people are injured each year from substances used around their homes. Medications are useful to treat illnesses and taken properly they are quite effective. If taken in larger quantities they pose a threat to our health. We take the cleaners we use, or the products we have around our homes, for granted and believe these products actually save us time and effort. A problem can arise when these substances are misused or fall into the wrong hands.

That's the reason a full week in March is dedicated to poison prevention and awareness. National Poison Prevention Week and National Inhalants and Poisons Prevention Week March 19-25) brings attention to this serious problem.

This month's issue of Break Point will focus on the different ways many common substances can harm and steps you can take to prevent unintentional poisoning.

Break Point is produced by Loyola University, Burn and Shock Trauma Institute Injury Prevention Program. Please call us at (708) 327-2455 or email to: Kathy O'Day with any comments or questions.

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Grandparents Need to Protect Grandchildren from Poisons

It is estimated that over 10% of grandparents care for their grandchildren. According to a study conducted by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 36% of unintentional poisonings related to a prescription vial involved a grandparent's medication.

Often grandparents do not realize the importance of "child-proofing" their homes. Most grandparents live without children in their homes. So they often don't use non-child-resistant prescription vials, leave loose pills on countertops, or in purses or pockets. Children could get a hold of and swallow these medications when they are visiting grandparents or when grandparents visit them.

Children are curious; it is up to adults to help keep children safe. Here are some ways to help prevents this continuing tragedy:

  • Parents and grandparents should keep medicines out of the reach-and out of sight-of children.
  • Grandparents should use child-resistant caps on medication bottles if they are able to do so. Although grandparents may get traditional easy-to-open closures, the child-resistant vials should be used whenever children are around.
  • Avoid taking medications in the presence of young children because they learn by imitation.
  • Clean out medicine cabinets regularly and throw out any unused or expired medications.
  • Be safe with your medication bottles. Do not leave pills around the house on dresser tops or in pockets.
  • Refer to medicine by its proper name and teach children to respect medications. Never suggest that medicine is "candy" in order for children to take it.
  • Make sure children have access to safe snacks so they won't be tempted to try poisonous substances.

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Household Hazards Throughout the Home

As you walk through your home, there are poisons in each room of the house. The kitchen has cleaners; solvents and other items used each day. The bathroom has it's own set of poisons, mouthwash, toothpaste and medications to name a few. There are over 1,400 different cleaners on the market that are used to make our lives easier and homes cleaner.

Sadly, each year there are more than 6,000 persons who die and an estimated 300,000 injured from unintentional poisonings by solid and liquid substances. Most of the unintentional poisonings happen to children under 5.

Unintentional poisonings, however, can be prevented. Here are some suggestions from the National Safety Council on ways to poison proof your home:


  • Have a "child-proof" section of a medicine cabinet that locks.
  • Keep medication lids tightly closed. A child-resistant cap is meaningless if not properly fastened after each use.

  • Do not keep any personal-care items out in the open on a vanity or dresser. Hairspray, cologne, or astringents should be kept where children can't get at them.

  • Check under the sink and on low-lying cabinet shelves. Look for stored products that could be hazardous when accessible to young children.
  • Cleaning compounds and foods should never be stored on the same shelf. One item may be mistaken for the other.
  • Keep all substances in their original containers. Using beverage bottles or cans for storing cleaning fluids or other household mixtures is very hazardous. Children, and even adults, might mistake the contents for the original beverage.
  • Keep potentially hazardous cleaning compounds capped while using them. Do not leave the unattended container uncapped for even "just a minute" if children are present.

    Additional information

    Keep the numbers of your local poison control center, family doctor and hospital emergency department posted near the phone

    The telephone number of the Illinois Poison Control Center is: 1-800-942-5659

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    Poison or Candy? You Decide

    Many products we use throughout our homes that are safe and good to eat such as candy or juices have look-alike dangerous counterparts.

    Marketing companies try to persuade consumers to buy their product over the competition so they have fancier packaging to appeal to their "target consumer". If they want to get children to use a certain product they market it for children to enjoy. Companies make shampoos that smell like grapes, watermelon or cherries; soaps that smell like green apple or tangerines; toothpaste that tastes just like bubble gum. Too often children can't distinguish the "safe treat" from the dangerous poison.

    Too many medicines have the appearance of, or are packaged like candies. For example, Nicorette gum and Dentyne Ice gum have nearly identical packaging and are the same size and color. Dimetap elixir and Welch's grape juice look very similar and both have a grape-like smell. Peptobismal looks very much like Nesquick Strawberry milk.

    It is important to teach children early on that medications are important when used properly and "too much of a good thing" can harm you. It is also important to teach young children not to eat anything that has not been given to them by an adult or to ask permission before eating it.

    Do you know what to do if your child ingests a poisonous substance? Here are some first aid tips to take immediate actions for proper advice and assistance:

    • Stay calm and keep the child calm.
    • Do not give anything by mouth until calling for advice.
    • Call the local Poison Control Center at 1-800-942-5969
    • Have the bottle or the substance in hand when talking to the poison information specialist.
    • You will be given advice on how to handle the situation properly. More than 70% of the cases can be dealt with at home.
    • If symptoms are present or there is a risk of illness or injury, call 911.
    • Always keep a one ounce bottle or syrup of ipecac for each child on hand at home. It is also recommended to have activated charcoal available. Use only on the advice of the poison control center.

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    Should We Be Concerned About Lead Poisoning?

    Many peoples perception of lead poisoning is that it is only a problem in the inner city neighborhoods. Pictures of children in run-down buildings eating paint. The reality is, lead poisoning is a problem in the suburbs and rural areas as well as in the inner city. There is a concern about lead poisoning. Children in Chicago area schools need to have their lead levels checked prior to entering kindergarten.

    Lead is a silent hazard. It is invisible but present in the dust around your home, your drinking water and in various products we use daily. Lead levels can build up over time. Lead toxicity has no noticeable symptoms and has no cure. As blood levels build up over time, the lead can affect brain development and cause learning and behavior problems. Nearly one million children are affected by lead poisoning in the United States. Acute lead poisoning, which does have symptoms, can be fatal and must be treated.

    There are many things around our homes, which contain high levels of lead. Prevention is the best and only treatment for lead poisoning. Some of the products we use that contain lead are:

    • Antiques- They contain lead paint. Keep teething toddlers away from painted antiques.
    • Hair dye- Some hair dyes that are used over a period of time for a gradual color change contain lead acetate. The lead in these products, if used correctly, does not pose a risk to the user but should be kept away from children.
    • Plastic Mini-blinds- Many of the Mini-blinds that are manufactured outside of the United States contain high levels of lead in the plastic. The lead leaks out of the plastic as they age. If your Mini-blinds are older and the finish has dulled they should be replaced. Lead-free mini-blinds can be purchased at major retail stores.
    • House paint- Houses built before 1977 contain some leaded paint. Paint that is chipped should be repaired. Dust windowsills with a moist cloth weekly to remove the dust, which often contains lead. Larger renovation projects to remove leaded paint should be done by professional lead abatement specialists.
    • Lead pipes or lead sodder- If your home was built before 1986 there are lead pipes used in the drinking supply. Lead leaks out of the pipes especially when hot water is used. Using a water filter can remove 99% of the lead in tap water. Use cold water from the tap for cooking.

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    Educate Yourself About Inhalants Before Your Kids Do

    What do Pam Cooking Spray, Scotch Guard, Rubber Cement and Nitrous Oxide have in common? They are all part of a group of substances that are used, besides their obvious intended use, as a cheap, easy way to get high. These substances are part of a group of products known as inhalants. They are readily available and inexpensive. They are poisons that can have permanent consequences if abused.

    According to the National Inhalants and Poisons Awareness estimates, one in five students have used an inhalant to get high by the time he or she reaches eighth grade. The numbers dramatically increase when students reach high school. Approximately, 19.3% of older students have admitted to using inhalants. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 12 million children are abusing inhalants.

    Nearly all inhalants produce affects similar to anesthetics, which slow the body's function. Varying upon the level of dosage, the user can experience slight stimulation, a feeling of decreased inhibition or even loss of consciousness. The user can ultimately suffer from Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome. Other effects include damage to the heart, kidney, brain, liver, bone marrow and other organs.

    It is never too early to teach your children about the dangers of inhalants. Here are some things parents can do to decrease inhalant use among their children:

    • Look for signs of inhalant abuse: short term memory loss, emotional instability, slurred speech, tremors, loss of sense of smell are among some of the signs.
    • Look for changes in children's behavior: keeping to themselves, weight loss, loss of appetite or failing grades.
    • If inhalant abuse is suspected, get counseling.
    • Talk to your children early about the dangers of inhaled substances, communicate the facts clearly, this will help prevent curiosity and the temptation to experiment.
    • Explain that inhalants are not drugs; they are chemicals which were never intended to be breathed into the body.
    • Know that it inhalation of certain compounds for the purpose of intoxication is illegal in 25 states.

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    Coming Next Month in Injury Prevention

    • National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
    • National Youth Sports Safety Month.

    The information on the Loyola University Health System (LUHS) Web site is for educational purposes only. It is presented in summary form in order to impart general information relating to certain diseases, ailments, physical conditions and their treatments. The information provided through the LUHS Web site should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or a disease, nor is it a substitute for professional care. Should you have any health-care related questions or suspect you have a health problem, you should consult your health care provider.

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