Name and Avoid Your Poison

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Your home is the safest place in the world for you and your family, right? 

Most of the time, that’s true. But if you have young children and you haven’t considered the possibility of accidental poisoning from cleaning products, prescription medication, plants, or insects, maybe you should. 

In an effort to reduce accidental poisonings by highlighting the ways they typically occur, the third week of March is designated National Poison Prevention Week. Since nine out of ten poisonings happen at home, let’s start there.

Keeping the Kids Safe 

Young children are particularly vulnerable to getting poisoned. In 2019, about 67,500 children under five went to hospital emergency rooms after getting poisoned, and most of those incidents—85 percent—happened at home.

So how do you reduce the risks of your curious kids getting into something they shouldn’t? Here are a few tips.

  • Teach your children not to eat toothpaste. Toothpaste contains fluoride, which can be dangerous in large amounts. 
  • Keep mouthwash and other personal care products out of the reach of children, too. Anything that contains alcohol can be fatal to little kids.
  • Store household products, including pesticides, laundry detergent, and antifreeze, in a secure closet or cabinet and out of your children’s grasp.
  • Avoid storing household products in food or drink containers. Kids might mistake these products for something they can eat or drink.
  • Consider whether the paint in your home might contain lead. (Particularly if you live in a house or apartment built before 1971, the paint inside might not be lead-free.) Children can get lead poisoning by eating paint chips or breathing dust from old lead paint. (Check your children’s toys, too. Toys made outside of the United States can also contain unsafe amounts of lead.)
  • Store all medications out of the reach of your children. If you want to know how to return unused, unneeded, or expired prescription drugs, ask your pharmacist.
  • Make sure your children know how to use art supplies appropriately. Don’t forget to wash their hands and the surfaces they were using when they’re finished creating.
  • Make sure your children know they shouldn’t eat wild mushrooms, berries, or anything growing outside your house. 
  • Teach your kids (and everyone in your family) not to touch plants with leaves that grow in clumps of three because, usually, they can cause allergic reactions if you touch them. A lot of those plants—including poison ivy and poison oak—can be identified by their trio of leaves. 
  • Make sure your children know to stay away from bees, wasps, hornets, spiders, and snakes.

Adults Can Be Poisoned, Too

Children aren’t the only ones who run the risk of getting accidentally poisoned. There are a variety of ways adults can be affected, too. Have you ever had food poisoning? Here are a few ways to avoid it.

  • Wash your hands and the counters before preparing food.
  • Use clean utensils for cooking and serving. 
  • Store food at the proper temperature. Refrigerated foods shouldn’t be left out at temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Don’t let food sit out at room temperature for more than two hours.

Avoiding Carbon Monoxide 

It’s also a good idea to remember that cars, appliances, furnaces, and gas dryers can all give off carbon monoxide—a poisonous gas with no color or smell. To decrease your risk, follow these guidelines:

  • Have your furnace serviced annually.
  • Install a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector in your home.
  • Stay in well-ventilated areas when gas-powered machinery—including your car—is running. 

If you think you or one of your family members has been poisoned, call the free Poison Helpline at 1-800-222-1222, which will immediately connect you to your local poison center and a poison expert.