Poison prevention: Understanding the risks
Special to The Union
Poison Control Center
For help with a potential poisoning or to get information about certain substances, call the Poison Control Hotline.
In 2018, the U.S. poison control centers received more than 2.1 million phone calls regarding possible poisoning incidents. That’s one poison exposure every 15 seconds.
This week is National Poison Prevention Week, a time when all of us are reminded to do what we can to prevent accidental poisonings and to restrict access to items that can be used in intentional poisonings or overdoses.
The National Capital Poison Control Center reports that while young children (younger than 6 years) comprise the vast majority of the cases, poisoning can affect all age groups, from infants to seniors.
Peak poisoning frequency occurs in toddlers between the ages one and two – when children become mobile and curious. The NCPC points out, however, that poisonings in teens and adults are more serious and tend to be more life-threatening.
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“The majority of poisonings we see in the Emergency Department are unintentional,” says Dr. Bailey Roche, Emergency Physician at Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. “This could be due to medication errors such as patients not understanding the prescribed dose or accidentally taking their significant other’s medications. That said, the majority of unintentional ingestions that we see are in children under six.”
The most common accidentally ingested items for children are cosmetics and personal care products – makeup, mouthwash, soaps, etc. – which account for 12 percent of poisonings in children.
Cleaning products rank second, followed by pain medications (excess amounts of ibuprofen or acetaminophen), toys and other foreign bodies, and topical ointments or creams.
Dr. Roche says the good news for children who accidentally ingest such items is that most of the time, they will be fine.
“Many ingestions are harmless and do not require a visit to the doctor or the hospital,” Dr. Roche explains. “I would suggest calling the Poison Control Center [see sidebar]. They are available 24 hours a day and they can help you make quick decisions about whether to seek care or watch at home.”
The NCPC reports that 65 percent of poison cases in 2018 resolved safely without medical intervention. For children six or younger, 85 percent did not require medical care.
If you do find yourself caring for someone who may have experienced ingested a harmful substance, get expert advice before acting. In particular, it’s important to know that while you may have heard that inducing vomiting can help a poisoning victim, Dr. Roche says that is actually counter productive.
“Do not try to induce vomiting,” says Dr. Roche. “This has been proven ineffective and can actually cause more harm in some circumstances. Do not give any purported antidotes unless directed by the poison center or a doctor.”
For adults who may have suffered an accidental poisoning, Dr. Roche’s advice is the same – call the Poison Control Center. However, for intentional poisonings, such as overdoses or suicide attempts, he recommends quick action.
“In an intentional ingestion, I would recommend you just call 911 immediately,” he explains. “These patients should almost always be evaluated by a physician immediately.”
Experts agree, when it comes to poisoning – prevention is the key. Dr. Roche recommends the following:
— Never take medications that are not prescribed specifically for you.
— Be organized with your own medications to avoid taking extra doses.
— Get rid of prescriptions you are no longer taking
— Store medications in a safe place, in a locked container. Children can climb, they are curious, and they often access places that parents think they cannot!
— Store hazardous chemicals in a locked cabinet with safety latches.
— Never place hazardous substances in a food or beverage container.
Many accidental exposures happen this way.
— Make sure carbon monoxide detectors are working. Carbon monoxide is still the largest poisoning exposure worldwide.
To learn more about poison prevention, visit the | NCPC website at poison.org.
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