6 ways to child-proof your medications
Colorful gummy vitamins mimic candy, from the packaging right down to their sweet, chewy taste. Kids can easily be tempted to try them or mistake them for candy, says Cape Cod Hospital ER physician Kristen Liska, MD.
If you haven’t thought of keeping vitamins away from children to prevent poisoning, you’re not alone. Every 10 minutes, a child goes to an emergency room because of medicine poisoning, according to the latest study from Safe Kids Worldwide. Most accidental poisoning takes place where children should feel safest—their homes.
There are two parts to the problem, according to Dr. Liska. First, parents, grandparents and other caregivers aren’t storing medicine safely. Second, people don’t recognize that certain dosages of vitamins, supplements and over-the-counter medicines can be toxic, especially to children, so they may be keeping these items out in the open.
“I’ve had patients eat their parent’s thyroid medicine, which is very dangerous if ingested in high doses. And just one calcium channel blocker commonly prescribed for blood pressure control can really hurt a child. Large quantities of Tylenol can cause liver failure. Iron is very toxic, and iron supplements can be deadly for kids. It’s a heavy metal that disrupts a lot of the cellular processes in the body, making toxic byproducts, yet many people keep iron supplements at home, as prescribed by their doctors. Gummies are just the tip of the problem,” she said.
Each day, 142 children under age six are being seen at ERs because parents and caregivers aren’t storing medicine safely, according to a study by Safe Kids Worldwide.
“If you find that your child has swallowed medication of any kind, or even if you suspect they have swallowed something, the first thing you should do is call the Poison Help Line at 1-800-222-1222. Your call will be quickly routed to the closest poison center,” said Dr. Liska. “They have all the resources to help you identify the problem and decide what to do. They can tell you if you need to go to the ER.”
Once at the ER, treatment varies. Victims of accidental poisoning may be observed and able to return home soon, they may need an antidote, or they may need hospitalization.
“We see a lot of patients in our ER who have taken medicines and other items that are toxic,” she said. “One of the most important things you can do when you come to the ER is bring the bottle or container with you. We can best treat the patient if we know what they swallowed. The bottle will have crucial information such as the dosage, and often we can determine how many pills were swallowed.”
Poison Safety Tips
To help prevent accidental poisoning, Dr. Liska recommends these tips from Safe Kids Worldwide:
- Keep medicine out of reach and sight of children, even medicine you take every day. Kids are naturally curious and can easily get into things, like medicine, if they are kept in places within their reach. Put all medicines and vitamins at or above counter height where kids can’t reach or see them.
- Consider places where kids get into medicine. Children often find medicine kept in purses or on counters and nightstands. Place bags and briefcases on high shelves or hang them on hooks, out of children’s reach and sight.
- Remember products you might not think about as medicine. Health products such as vitamins, diaper rash creams and even eye drops can be harmful if kids get into them. Store these items out of reach and sight of children, just as you would prescription medicines.
- Give medicine safely to children. Use only the dosing device that comes with liquid medicine, not a kitchen spoon.
- Save the Poison Help Line number in your phone and post it visibly at home: 1-800-222-1222. Their new interactive tool is available online: https://www.poisonhelp.org/help. Specialists at poison control centers provide free, confidential, expert medical advice 24 hours a day.
- Share medicine safety information with family and friends. Teach other caregivers such as family members, babysitters and friends about medicine safety and make sure they know the Poison Help number.