Children are one of life’s most treasured gifts. As parents we try to do everything we can to keep them safe, happy and healthy. This week the Fire District is focusing on Pediatric Poisonings. We are going to discuss the most common poisonings for children and teens, ways to help prevent poisonings and overdoses and what to do if you suspect your children may have been exposed to a poison.
Most people assume poisonings mean you ate or drank something that harms or kills you. The word poison originated from the word “ Potio” which is latin for a drink but the word as grown to include more than eating and drinking. Poisons are substances that makes their way into your body and results in harm or death. The UV radiation from the sun, gasoline for your car and even the sugar we pour into our tea can be poisons in the right quantities and situations.
Children are rapidly trying to learn about their environment and themselves, pediatric curiosity. This process usually involves their mouth and hands and this is exactly why they are often suffer from unintentional poisonings. The most common poisonings for young children are Cosmetics, Personal Care products, Pain medicines, Foreign Bodies, Topical preparations, Vitamins, Antihistamines, pesticides, plants and antimicrobials. All most all of the substances can be found in every home, in our bathrooms, garages and kitchens. Despite efforts to design containers so they are difficult for children to get them open often children can figure it out or the containers are not closed correctly. Most cleaning supplies, cosmetics, personal care products and pesticides are not designed to keep children out. If you look at most pills they look like candy and when you smell our personal care products and cleaners they have a very friendly and inviting scent.
Pre-teens and Teenagers are developing their independence and experimenting as a part of the next phase of their growth. This “teenage trial” period will expose them to opportunities to try new activities, be exposed to alcohol, recreational drugs and a desire to fit in with their peers. The most common poisonings during the “teenage trials” are pain medications, illicit drugs, Alcohol, Inhalants, depression and other medications, pesticides and plants. Most teenagers are aware that the substances they are putting into their bodies can harm them, it is just over ridden by a desire to feel good, fit in with their peers or help them to escape their life. Another common cause of teenage poisonings/overdoses is improper dosing of medications. Parents may allow their teenager to take their own medications or over the counter pain medications as they show they are responsible enough to do so. It can be hard for adults to figure out the timing of medications, how much to take and what medications we cannot take together. Teenagers are even less likely to understand dosing, interactions and timing, add in a changing metabolism, actively developing brain and floods of emotions it can lead to unintentional and intentional poisonings/overdoses.
We can help prevent our children and teenagers from being poisoned by attacking the issue from two fronts at once. When our children are very young we want to ensure our medications, cleaners, pesticides, personal products etc… are kept up high in cabinets and behind secured doors. We need to remember to always put things back safe and secure, even if we are just stepping out of the room for a second. We also need to start talking to our children early on about what to do if you find something “dangerous”, pill bottles, medicines and let them know that it can make them very sick. Outside safety is another area we need to hit on. Children don’t know that the berries, mushrooms and plants in the yard are different from the ones they will see at the table. It is important to establish a rule that they should not pick or eat any flowers, berries, leaves, mushrooms or plants without asking an adult first. It is also important to remember that while you may not spray your yard with harmful pesticides that others may spray theirs, especially those found along roads and noxious species.
If you decide to allow your teenager to start taking their own medications and over the counter medications it is important to sit down with them and discuss what the medication is, what it does and the dangers they pose to their health. It also could be a good idea to provide them with limited access to a small supply, a days dose, and instructions to call or text you if they are going to take it so you can account for it. On the same token spend some time going over the poisonous plants found in your area, including plants like poison oak and stinging nettles. As they decide to spend more time out in the woods and exploring the world around them they will need to recognize the plants and know what to do if they are exposed to them.
If you suspect your child, teenager, another adult, or yourself have been poisoned or suffering from an overdose the first thing to do is remain calm. Children and teenagers will be looking at you for help. If you are outwardly upset and panicked this can magnify their level of panic and make their condition worse. You will need to identify what substance or substances are involved and attempt to locate their container or source. Once you know what it is that is making them sick you should contact poison control and/or call 911. They will be able to advise you on what to do next. If you find that more than one person has become ill and you cannot identify the substance/source consider leaving the immediate area, stay together, don’t let other people go into that area and call 911 immediately. It is almost never indicated to cause someone to vomit or to have them drink anything. It is very important to follow the instructions of 911 and Poison Control.
Remember if a child can reach it and it fits in their mouth it will end up in their mouth. Keeping things than can harm your children up and secure can prevent most poisonings. Make sure you teach your children not to eat/pick plants without an adults permission. With teenagers it is important to talk with them about their own medications, over the counter medications and to educate them on poisonous plants in your area along with what to do if they are exposed to them. The best thing you can do if you suspect someone has been poisoned is to stay calm, call poison control and/or 911 and follow their instructions.