Poison-proof your home to prevent accidents

University of Michigan Health System
Tuesday, 1 June 2004

University of Michigan safety specialist recommends labeling and locking-up common household products to prevent poisoning

Every 15 seconds a person in the United States is accidentally poisoned, and about 60 percent of those people are children younger than age six. Most poisonings happen as a result of children's curiosity with their parents' medications, or when they come in contact with common household products.

To help prevent common household poisonings, Brenda Schroeder, a safety management specialist at the University of Michigan Health System, offers some advice on keeping kids and adults safe.

Poison-proofing the home

"Poisons" are really just household products or medications that seem harmless, but turn deadly when used in the wrong way. Parents should remain as cautious as possible to avoid accidents in high-risk areas such as the kitchen, bathroom, laundry room and garage. All of these areas hold the most common poisonsóaverage medications, cleaners, cosmetics, and even plants. Plants to watch out for include philodendrons, ivies, tulips and daisies.

Poison-proofing the home is important in preventing accidents, and these tips will also help when unavoidable circumstances arise. To poison-proof the home:

  • Lock up poisonous products in a cabinet or store them up high and out of reach of children.

  • Check that the products are in their original container or have a proper label. Original labels on the container often give first aid information.

  • Make sure household cleaners or medications have a child-resistant cap.

  • Don't leave out hazardous products or medicinesóreturn them immediately after use to safe storage.

  • Read the product labels on all cleaning products so you know how to safely use them.

  • Have the telephone number of the Poison Control Center handy: 1-800-222-1222

Poison-proofing the home also involves adults behaving in a way that deters children from wanting to misuse medications.

Schroeder says, "Always make sure not to refer to medications as candy. And If possible, do not take your medication in front of your children. Children often like to pretend to be grown up and mimic what adults do."

When the children are old enough, it is important to educate them about the dangers associated with taking medication incorrectly.

Poison-proofing in the kitchen

Some of the most common poisons that you find in a kitchen are household cleaners, prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, and even vitamins, especially vitamins that contain iron.

"Other products that could be harmful are drain openers and spray cleaners. These products do not necessarily have to be swallowed to be poisonous. Drain openers can be caustic and burn the skin, while spray cleaners can be sprayed into the eye and face area accidentally and then be absorbed through mucus membranes," says Schroeder.

Use these tips in the kitchen to prevent poisoning:

  • Store harmful products away from food. Try using a separate pantry or different area of the kitchen to store cleaning supplies.

  • Alcoholic beverages can also cause serious poisoning. Keep alcohol or liquor out the reach of children, perhaps in a higher cabinet or on the top shelf above the refrigerator.

  • Never put harmful products in any sort of food container.

In the bathroom

The most common poisonous products found in a bathroom are personal care items, such as shampoos, conditioners, deodorants and lotions, cosmetics, nail polish remover, nail polish itself, lipsticks and lip balms. Also, mouth wash, toothpaste, baby oil and bathroom cleaners should be safely stored away.

"Prescription and over-the-counter medications are another hazard in the bathroom," says Schroeder.

Make sure expired prescriptions have been flushed down the toilet and that all medicines are in their original container with original label and sealed with child-resistant packaging.

In the laundry room

Typical household products such as detergents (liquid and powder), bleaches and spot removers can be very dangerous if ingested.

Other common household products in the laundry room are vinegar and ammonia, which can be used as whitening products, but can also be harmful.

"Vinegar and ammonia, if they are mixed with bleach, will form a poisonous gas and it's important to remember to never mix these types of products," says Schroeder.

The biggest threat in the laundry room is how often people leave and come back to the laundry, leaving detergents and bleach in the reach of children. Remember to always put potentially dangerous poisons away even if they're going to be used in the next load.

In the garage

"When you come out into the garage, some of the items that could be poisonous in regard to lawn care are items such as insecticides and pesticides, weed killers, and fertilizers," says Schroeder. "One thing that you want to keep in mind is that although a product may be labeled as 'organic,' that does not necessarily mean it is not potentially poisonous."

Other hazardous and potentially poisonous products found in the garage include:

  • Car care products, such as degreasers, car wax, motor oil and antifreeze

  • Lighter fluid, caulking materials, cleansers, turpentine and paint thinner.

No matter what products are being used in whichever area of the home, adults must be aware that most poison accidents occur during the use of the product when adults leave the room or area for just a moment.

Schroeder says it's very important to keep these products out of the reach of small children, not only when storing the items, but during use as well.

Facts about poison accidents:

  • One of the most common causes of poisoning in children under age five is medicine containing iron, such as many multivitamins.

  • In 2000, poison control centers reported approximately 2.2 million poison exposures.

  • More than 90 percent of poison exposures occur in the home.

  • More than 100,000 poisonings resulted in hospitalization in 2001.

For more information, visit the following websites:

U-M Health Topics A-Z: Poisoning

U-M Health Topics A-Z: Poisoning Prevention

Am. Assoc. of Poison Control Centers: Poisoning fact sheet

U.S. F.D.A.: Protect your child from poisons in your home

For more information, or to contact University of Michigan Health System, see their website at: www.med.umich.edu

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