As a parent of young children (5-year old triplets), I do my best to keep them safe, happy, and out of trouble. As an injury researcher, other parents often ask me what they should do to keep their children safe. There are many things to think about, both in and out of the house that can be an injury risk to young children. Here are a few items you may have in your home that you may think are safe for your kids, but can possibly be dangerous.
Hand sanitizer helps keep both adults and kids from getting sick and we encourage our kids to use it to clean their hands. Many hand sanitizers are scented with fruit or sweet smells which can be confusing to a young child. Children may try to drink it or put their hand in their mouth. The alcohol in hand sanitizers is often about 60% ethyl alcohol – stronger than the concentration in most hard liquor. Swallowing even a couple squirts can cause alcohol poisoning in a young child.
Be sure to watch children while they use hand sanitizer and make sure they know not to taste it. Then store the container up, away, and out of sight so children can’t get to it.
Laundry and dishwasher detergent packets
You may have seen the ads telling you how convenient detergent packets are. What we don’t hear from the commercial is that these packets contain a more concentrated and toxic detergent. Kids can’t, or likely won’t, read warning labels and these packets often come in containers that look like snack containers. Detergent packets can look like candy, toys, or teething rings to a young child. If a child puts a packet in his mouth and bites down, he can swallow a whole load’s worth of detergent in a split second. Even if it is just squeezed concentrated detergent can squirt onto hands, face, or into your child’s eyes and mouth.
Parents and caregivers of children younger than six years , should use traditional (liquid or powder) laundry and dishwasher detergent rather than packets (and still keep these locked up). If you use packets, treat them like any other poison and keep them stored up, away, and out of sight – in a locked cabinet is best.
Most people know it isn’t safe for kids to take medicine that isn’t theirs, but medicine might be hiding in your house. Maybe it’s a bottle of pain relievers you or visitors keep in your purse, or a friend or family member staying with you who keeps a toiletry bag in a suitcase on the floor. If you have pets, you may keep medicine in a low cabinet with their food.
Child-resistant does not mean child-proof. Children are curious and want to explore. Keep all medications – prescription and over-the-counter – stored up, away, and out of sight. This includes medication for parents, grandparents, children and even pets. When visitors come over, make sure purses, jackets or suitcases (which may have medicine in them) are out of reach of children. Hang them on a hook or put them in a locked room or high location.
Button batteries are small, shiny, and may be in everything from greeting cards to calculators. If a child swallows a button battery it can burn him from the inside and could be deadly. They often get stuck in the throat or GI track and caustic chemicals leak out, eat through the stomach/intestines, and can cause infection.
If you think a child has ingested a button battery, go to an emergency department immediately. Because these often look like coins in person and on an x-ray, make sure to tell the person admitting you, the nurse, and the doctor if you know or suspect it’s a button battery.
E-cigarettes are typically stored in places easily accessible to children – a purse, pocket, car, or table. Liquid nicotine refills are often flavored and scented with sweet smells attractive to kids like soda, fruit, and candy. Often, the bottles have images and colors which children find attractive. If kids see you putting an e-cigarette in your mouth and the vape smells good or looks pretty, they might try to taste it. If a child swallows liquid nicotine she can get really sick and even getting it on skin or hands can be dangerous.
If you use e-cigarettes, avoid vaping around kids. Store vaping supplies – especially refill containers – up, away, and out of sight, preferably in a locked location. Share this information with caregivers and other people frequently around your children.
You can prevent child poisonings in your home by going through each room on a child’s level. You don’t have to lock every single cabinet. Consolidate the poisons to one cabinet in each room so one place is secure and locked. Be sure to return items to this place after each use – yes, it can be inconvenient (true of most things related to parenting and kids) – but by storing these dangerous medicines, cleaners, and other products safely you are gaining peace of mind. For a room-by-room, age-appropriate guide to making your home safer, visit www.makesafehappen.com, listen to our PediaCast, or download the Make Safe Happen app.
Save the Poison Help Number in your phone: 1-800-222-1222 and encourage other adults and caregivers to do the same. Place stickers or magnets with the number near home phones and call immediately if your child ingested something in the above list. You can call before your child develops symptoms. The Poison Help Number is a national number which will connect you to a regional poison center. It is staffed 24/7 by experts who will connect you with 911 if necessary, or advise you on how to help your child.
Lara B. McKenzie, PhD, is a principal investigator in the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital and an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics, College of Medicine and the Division of Epidemiology, College of Public Health at The Ohio State University.
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