The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that nine of every 10 accidental poisonings of children happen in the home. The CPSC also says those cases involve more than our medicine and kitchen cabinets.
Safety experts urge that we “go beyond the bottle” and look all through our homes for possible dangers. They say we need to look at things through a child’s eyes and seek out anything that might be appealing to a youngster.
“It’s shiny, it’s round, and children can’t tell the difference,” says Dr. Karen Simone, director of the Northern New England Poison Center (NNEPC). Simone says tens of thousands of children who think they are eating candy have to be treated for accidental poisonings every year.
She says most of us think of household cleaners and insecticides as the major problems. However, she says children can grab common products such as toothpaste and deodorants, if they’re not kept out of reach; these products can also cause health problems when ingested.
NNEPC compiles statistics on accidental exposures to harmful things. Accompanying the stats is a reminder that numbers of exposures do not equal numbers of patients treated for those exposures; because little hands and mouths are attracted to all kinds of things, multiple exposures are all too common.
From 2011 to 2013, the center recorded 40,080 exposures in youngsters up to age 5. More than 6,000 of those exposures involved cosmetics or other personal care products. The next leading causes of problems were analgesics — mainly ibuprofen and acetaminophen — in what Dr. Simone describes as “therapeutic misadventures.”
Some of those accidents relate directly to our busy lifestyles. Adults hurrying through their morning routines may set out medication on the kitchen table; while their backs are turned, “a small child will scoop it up before they take it.”
Another issue involves adults putting chemicals of various kinds into food or drink containers for storage. Toddlers who don’t yet read act based on what they see; if they see something that looks like food or drink, they may ingest it faster than an adult can react.
Then there’s the matter of many Mainers’ addiction to opioids. An increasing number of take-home medications pose increased risks to children.
“We need to treat the people, but we have to look at the whole picture,” Simone says, urging more awareness by treatment professionals and patients alike.
A final caution involves caregiver errors. More and more women are working, and men are handling more household duties; Simone says this “has led to some confusion” in administering medications. Communication is the key to keeping consumers safe.
Call NNEPC at 800-222-1222 if you suspect there has been an accidental poisoning. You may also call just to ask a question. Simone urges people not to be embarrassed to call, and says they may call anonymously if they like.
For more information, visit www.nnepc.org.
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.