A mother walks into the bathroom, to find her two-year-old playing with an open bottle of pills. Panic-stricken, many questions go through her head. What happened? How could he have opened that bottle on his own? Most importantly, is he going to be OK?
Frantically, she picks up the phone and dials the number for the Manitoba Poison Centre (MPC) and a reassuring voice answers. Mom's first words to the nurse are: "I thought the bottle was childproof!"
Many parents falsely believe the caps on medicine bottles will keep their child safe. This is a common misconception that leads to many unintentional childhood poisonings. Containers are designed to slow a child's time to access the contents, but no bottle is childproof.
The Manitoba Poison Centre received more than 9,000 calls last year, although this number underestimates the true incidence of poisonings in the province as many who have been exposed to a potentially harmful substance will call 911 or go directly into their nearest emergency department.
Almost half of all calls received by the MPC in 2013 were regarding children under the age of six, who are most at risk for unintentional poisoning in the home. The most common types of products children get into include: over-the-counter pain medicine containing acetaminophen or ibuprofen, household cleaners, personal-care products and vitamins.
Although the most common route of exposure is by ingestion, poisonings can also occur by other routes such as an inhalation (e.g. carbon monoxide), a splash on the skin or a splash in the eye (e.g. a household chemical). Regardless of the route, any exposure may be dangerous and warrants a phone call to the Manitoba Poison Centre at 1-855-776-4766.
Young children are most at risk for unintentional poisoning because of their developmental stage; they put everything in their mouths. Their innate curiosity and desire to explore their environment in this way can be very dangerous. The MPC is often contacted about a child who has innocently swallowed a pill or household cleaning product simply out of curiosity. As well, children and adults can be unintentionally poisoned by swallowing something they think is a beverage because they didn't look closely at the label. Many poisonous substances are in containers that look very similar to consumable products.
The good news is poisonings are preventable. Making a few simple changes in your home may possibly save your child from being poisoned.
-- Keep your poisons locked up tight and out of sight. Keep all family medicine including prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines, natural or herbal remedies and vitamins in a locked cupboard or box. The MPC recommends a tool box with a lock. Household chemicals and cleaning products can be kept in a cupboard with a safety latch. Remember, even young children can climb and find things you think are well-hidden.
-- Do not rely on the container to protect your child. Remember a child-resistant container is only going to slow your child down. It will not prevent him or her from accessing what is inside. Also, make sure the lids are closed properly. They will only work if you use them properly.
-- Do not store medicine in your purse or diaper bag. Remember, children are curious.
Heather Hudson is an advanced nursing practice educator with the Manitoba Poison Centre.