With the start of school comes the start of cold and flu season, and the Florida/USVI Poison Information Center reminds parents of the unexpected risks for children to be accidentally poisoned with medicines.
"Cough and cold medicines are really popular this time of year," said Debi Forrest, education coordinator for the Jacksonville-based center.
"It is one of the more common calls in children under the age of 6 this time of year," she said, adding that people don’t close the bottles properly or they leave them out on the counter where children can get at them.
They are "probably the most dangerous" common cause of accidental poisoning of children, she said.
"The problem with cold medicines is they are multi-ingredient products and often have acetaminophen and aspirin," Forrest said. Those common over-the-counter fever pain relievers and fever reducers can cause stomach problems, including bleeding, and liver damage or even liver failure in high doses, she said. And because they taste sweet, a child is more likely to actually consume liquid cold medicine than numerous bitter-tasting pills.
If parents believe a child has consumed a substantial amount of cough syrup, do not rely on the internet for help, Forrest said, adding that "too much information is inaccurate or incomplete." She said the best course of action is to call the Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222.
"Call any time of the day or night and we are here, staffed with trained professionals who can help you out," she said.
She said that if the volume consumed is not too large nor the child very small, a trip to the emergency room is not necessary and the child can be watched at home. But the professionals at the call center can help you decide if it is its time to get in the car and go, she said.
Children’s vitamins are also a potential hazard for young children because of the potential for excessive amounts of iron.
"For young children, iron can be a danger," Forrest said. "If a pediatrician has not advised parents the child needs chewable vitamins, they probably get enough in their diet and having them really just poses a risks in the home," she said.
Teachers should think about poison-proofing their classrooms this time of year and parents their homes. Young children may find glues, inks, crayons, paints, felt tip markers, chalkboard cleaners and other potentially toxic arts and craft supplies. While most of these may not pose much immediate danger of serious illness, larger or repeated exposures to some of these can result in a more serious illness, according to the center.
Adults should make sure children are using art products safely by reading labels carefully, following the directions for safe use and disposal, and cleaning up tables, desks, and counters appropriately. As an added precaution, children should not be allowed to eat or drink while using art products.
Pretty, colorful art products sometimes find their way into children’s mouths as they can mistake them for food products. If an art product is splashed into the eyes or spilled onto skin, call the Poison Help line immediately.
Plants can also be potentially toxic. Symptoms include eye, mouth, skin irritation and an upset stomach. The severity of the symptoms will depend upon the type and amount of the plant ingested. Taking the following precautions can help reduce poisonings:
– Learn and then label the names of plants in and around your home;
– If unable to identify a plant, a small clipping can be taken to a local nursery for identification;
– Burning certain leaves/plants can release poisonous gases;
– During the fall season, berries may fall to the ground increasing the potential for a child to ingest the berries.
Car antifreeze has a sweet taste and children and pets may quickly drink antifreeze in large amounts. A small ingestion of even a teaspoonful can potentially cause serious illness and death, so contact the center immediately if this occurs.