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What should I do if my child swallows something that could be poisonous?
First, get the rest of whatever your child has swallowed away from her. Then try to make her spit out anything left in her mouth. Keep a sample (or what's left in the container, if there is one) in case it's needed to identify the poison.
Call 911 immediately if you notice any of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing
- Severe throat pain
- Burns on the lips or mouth
- Extreme sleepiness
Do not try to make your child vomit. If your child has swallowed a strong acid, such as toilet bowl cleaner, or a strong alkali, such as drain or oven cleaner, vomiting could further injure her by bringing the burning substance back up through her throat and mouth.
What if my child doesn't seem to be seriously ill?
If your child doesn't have any of the serious symptoms listed above, call your local poison control center. (Do not assume that he is fine. Some dangerous substances won't cause a reaction immediately.)
If you don't have the number handy, call the American Association of Poison Control Centers at (800) 222-1222 to be automatically redirected to your local poison control center.
Experts at the poison center will need to know your child's approximate weight, any medical conditions he may have, any medications he's taking, and as much information about the substance he swallowed as you can give.
If possible, have the container with you when you make the call. The poison center may need to know the ingredients listed on the label. If your child has swallowed something like part of a plant, describe it as completely as you can.
If your child has swallowed prescription or over-the-counter medication, have the container handy so you can provide all the necessary information. If you can, estimate the maximum number of pills your child could have swallowed by subtracting any pills you can account for from the original number in the bottle.
Experts used to tell parents to keep syrup of ipecac on hand for poisoning emergencies, but the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) no longer recommends it. Ipecac causes a child to vomit, which isn't an effective treatment for poisoning and may severely injure a child who has ingested a caustic substance. (Activated charcoal is the standard treatment for poisoning in children, though only a healthcare professional is qualified to give it to your child.)
What if my child gets poison on his skin?
Remove any affected clothes and rinse the exposed skin with lukewarm water. If the skin looks burned, continue rinsing for at least 15 minutes. Call the poison center for more advice.
What if something toxic splashes into my child's eye?
Immediately flush your child's eye with lukewarm water. This may not be easy if she's upset or frightened.
If another adult is present, ask for help holding your child while you run the water toward the inside of the eye to flush out the toxic substance. If you're alone, wrap your child tightly in a towel or blanket and hold her under one arm.
Flush the eye by pouring lukewarm water gently into the inner corner. Try to hold the eyelids open or get your child to blink. Reassure her while you continue flushing the eye for 15 minutes.
If your child splattered the substance on other body parts as well, you might want to give her a shower instead. (You can get in with her to help her through this.) Then call the poison center.
What if my child is exposed to toxic fumes?
Get your child into the fresh air as quickly as possible. If your child isn't breathing, start CPR immediately. If possible, ask someone else to call 911.
If you're alone, perform CPR for one minute, then call 911. Resume CPR immediately and continue until help arrives or your child begins breathing on his own.
If your child has been exposed to toxic fumes but doesn't seem to be affected by it, talk with his doctor. The doctor will ask for the details and direct you to take any further steps.
Poisonous fumes at home can come from car fumes in a closed garage; leaky gas vents; wood stoves that aren't working properly; or gas space heaters, ovens, stoves, or water heaters.
What other poisons should be concerned about?
Yes. Lead poisoning is a concern if your home was built before 1980. Children most often ingest lead in paint chips or inhale lead dust during renovations. Lead poisoning can cause anemia, as well as problems with cognitive and physical development and behavior.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is responsible for more fatalities than any other accidental poisoning in the United States. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can seep through your home from an appliance that's malfunctioning or that isn't properly installed.
Children show symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning before adults. Early signs are headache, dizziness, and sleepiness. As the exposure continues, nausea, vomiting, heart palpitations, unconsciousness, and even death are possible.
It's a good idea to install a carbon monoxide detector in your home and to test it regularly, along with your smoke detectors.
Find out more about child poisoning
Every year, nearly 78,000 children are treated for poisoning in emergency departments, and about 100 of them age 14 and under die. Over half of all poisonings occur in children under 6 years of age, and 90 percent of them happen at home.
Common household poisons include cosmetics, personal care products, cleaning supplies, pain relievers, pesticides, windshield washer solution and antifreeze, hydrocarbons (gasoline, kerosene, motor oil, furniture polish, paint thinner), plants, and alcohol.
Read our complete article on poison-proofing your home.