Candy-medicine mix-ups all too common on Halloween

(submitted photo)

(submitted photo)

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 300 children are treated in emergency rooms each day as a result of being unintentionally poisoned, two of whom lose their lives.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers also reports that in 2013, U.S. poison centers answered more than 3.1 million calls, including approximately 2.2 million calls concerning human exposures to poisons.

Just under half of all exposure cases managed by poison centers involved children younger than six, many of whom swallowed harmful substances, including household chemicals and medicines, often having mistaken them for new toys – or candy.

And it’s no wonder.

Take a look at the medicines in your bathroom cabinet – and at the products under the kitchen sink. Ever notice the similarity between an aspirin and a breath mint?  Or that pain relievers are almost identical to jelly beans? How about how all of the oil-based cleaning products look just like apple juice? Even the most common cleaning sprays resemble flavored waters and many of your children’s favorite juice packs.

Just think – if you have difficulty making the distinction, imagine what your kids see.

This Halloween, ensure that your kids are getting harmless tricks and tasty treats rather than picking their poison by following these easy reminders.

Reduce the Risk

To help keep children safe, parents should store anything that can be confused with candy, food or kids’ toys out of a child’s reach, perhaps in the garage or in a locked cabinet. These items can include:

  • Vitamins
  • Household cleaning products
  • Eye drops and contact solution
  • Laundry products
  • Nail polish
  • Cosmetics
  • Batteries
  • Bug and weed killers
  • Cigarettes
  • Alcohol
  • Mouthwash
  • Plants

Another recommendation – make an effort to see the world through their children’s eyes. To young children, bright-colored bottles of any kind and candy-shaped boxes, no matter what is in them, look more like tasty treats than potentially fatal substances.

Share the Knowledge

With more than 90 percent of poisonings occurring in the home (according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), parents must be vigilant and take precautions when visiting family members or when your kids are with the babysitter. Create a list of emergency contact numbers and helpful tips and have them in a visible place.

The CDC also recommends additional tips to avoid accidental poisonings:

  • Always secure containers after use.
  • Don’t let young children be around household cleaners or gardening products without adult supervision.
  • Leave original labels on all products.
  • If you have to do something else while taking medicine, such as answer the phone, take any young children with you.
  • Always take or dispense medications in a well-lit area to ensure proper dosage.
  • Don’t give your children medicine prescribed for an adult.
  • Never refer to medicine as “candy.”
  • Install child-resistant latches on all cabinets and drawers. Purchase extra sets and share with others outside your home where your kids might visit.

And, perhaps most importantly, always remember that a determined child is a resourceful one – child-resistant locks and latches are no substitute for a caregiver’s watchful eyes.

Know the Signs

Watch for signs that your child may have ingested a harmful substance.  Sudden vomiting, or drowsy behavior, evidence of the product may be on the child’s nose, mouth or on his or her breath. Of course, if you suspect a child has swallowed a hazardous chemical or medication, immediately call 9-1-1.

You should also educate your children to spot the signs of a potential poisoning in their friends and siblings, and role play with them so they can practice what to do in those situations. And make it easy for them to find help fast. Put the poison help number, 1-800-222-1222, on or near every home telephone and save it on everyone’s cell phones. The line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Here is to a safe and happy Halloween.

Jonathan Sherman is the National Dean of Health Science Programs at Carrington College.

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