Poison Prevention Awareness Week: Avoiding accidents at home

Tens of thousands of children are treated for poisoning in emergency rooms.
March 19-25 is National Poison Prevention Week, zeroing in on the risks presented by household items.
Published: Mar. 23, 2023 at 3:01 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - March 19-25 is National Poison Prevention Week, zeroing in on the risks presented by household items.

“Each year, Americans report more than 2 million poisoning cases and tens of thousands of children are treated for poisoning in emergency rooms after accidentally ingesting dangerous household chemicals,” according to a White House proclamation on NPPW.

Dr. Christine Murphy specializes in pediatric toxicology at Atrium Health. It’s one of only three toxicology groups in North Carolina. She says nearly half the poisonings they see are in children under the age of 6.

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“Anything that looks like candy to a toddler is something that they’re going to put in their mouth, or if it looks like juice and it’s a liquid chemical, it’s got that blue dye or fancy coloring, they will put it in their mouth,” Dr. Murphy explained.

The danger is commonplace: everything from hygiene products to medication to household cleaners to antifreeze and other automotive products and the button batteries found in toys and key fobs can pose a threat, especially to children.

North Carolina Poison Control reported a 23% increase in exposure to household cleaning products in 2020 compared with the previous year.

In older children, Dr. Murphy says incorrect doses or medication mix-ups lead to hospital visits. In elderly patients, it often comes in the form of accidental overdoses due to ineffective medication storage.

Families should be encouraged to act quickly, especially when it comes to young children who may not be able to confirm what they’ve come in contact with.

“Just start initially by washing their skin off, getting their clothes off of them, washing out their mouth,” said Dr. Murphy. “You can call the Poison Control Center, which is a phenomenal resource to help identify ‘Is this something that I need to bring my child to the emergency department or is this something I can handle at home?’”

The effects of poisoning range depending on the product. In severe cases, it can be deadly, it can lead to breathing difficulties, vomiting, or something as mild as an upset stomach or a cough.

According to America’s Poison Centers, 3,809 poison-related deaths were reported in 2021.

She says it’s important to note that prevention is key, but that families shouldn’t be ashamed to ask for help.

“This happens to everybody,” Dr. Murphy said. “It happens universally to the best parents with the closest observation. Things just happen, so don’t be ashamed about calling for help coming to the emergency department to have your child or your loved one evaluated.”

Experts say 93% of poisonings happen at home. Here are some simple things you can do to make at-home poisonings less likely:

Keep things locked and out of reach of children

Avoid transferring things out of their original containers, and adequately label any containers being used

Consider a cabinet lock for lower cabinetry

Opt for pill binders for medication storage

Get rid of old/expired/unwanted medication in the home

Program the poison control number in your phone (1-800-222-1222) or bookmark the NC Poison Control website to chat at NCPoisonControl.org.