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Caregivers Are Urged To Be Aware of Toxic Household Items


Child touching container of poisonous chemicals.

Atrium Health Navicent Beverly Knight Olson Children’s Hospital encourages the community to take note of potentially deadly household substances that could cause harm to children.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), poisoning is the leading cause of unintentional injury-related deaths in the U.S. In 2020, 87,404 people died as a result of poisoning. Household products such as cleaning agents, personal care and topical products, and pesticides are among the top 10 substances responsible for poisoning exposures annually. Misuse of prescription painkillers and exposure to carbon monoxide are also leading causes of poisoning.


In 2020, the 55 U.S. poison control centers provided telephone guidance for more than 2.1 million poison exposures. While children under 6 years old comprise the majority of cases, poisoning affects all age groups. The highest incidence occurs in 1- and 2-year-olds.


Across all ages, 76.9 percent of poison exposures reported to U.S. poison centers in 2020 were unintentional. Most poisonings occur when parents or caregivers are home but not paying attention. Atrium Health Navicent Beverly Knight Olson Children’s Hospital physicians caution that accidental ingestion of regular household substances such as certain plants, lawn fertilizers, alcohol and cleaning products including bleach, laundry and dishwasher detergents can lead to poisoning.


“Unfortunately, ingestion of common household products is extremely common. With certain household products or prescription and over-the-counter medication, even a small amount can lead to an adverse outcome,” said Dr. Stephanie Gilman, an Atrium Health Navicent pediatric specialist. “Keep household cleaning products and medication out of reach from children, and do not keep household products in cabinets under the sink.”


Follow these tips to keep children safe from accidental poisoning:

  • Store medicine, cleaning and laundry products, paints and pesticides in their original packaging in locked cabinets, out of sight and reach of children.

  • Do not give children adult medicine and ask your child’s pediatrician before giving him or her any medicine that is not prescribed for them.

  • Safety latches that automatically lock when you close a cabinet door can help keep children away from dangerous products, but there is always a chance the device will malfunction.

  • Purchase and keep all medicines in containers with safety caps. Discard unused medication. Never refer to medicine as “candy” or another appealing name.

  • Check the label each time you give a child medicine to ensure proper dosage. For liquid medicines​, use the dosing device that came with the medicine.

  • If you use an e-cigarette, keep the liquid nicotine refills locked and out of children's reach and only buy refills that use child-resistant packaging. A small amount of liquid nicotine spilled on the skin or swallowed can be fatal to a child.

  • Maintain working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

  • Secure remote controls, key fobs, musical children’s books and other devices that may contain small batteries, which can cause injury if ingested.

  • Know the names of all plants in your home and yard. If you have young children or pets, consider removing those that are poisonous.


If you suspect your child has been poisoned, it’s important to get help right away. Some signs that indicate your child may have been poisoned include lethargy, an altered mental status, shallow breathing, diarrhea and changes to their pupils. If your child is experiencing any of those symptoms, take them to an emergency room right away.


Caregivers are encouraged to prepare for poison emergencies by programming the national Poison Helpline (1-800-222-1222) into their phones and posting the number in a visible location. Health care professionals at the Poison Helpline are available 24 hours a day to answer questions about medications, household products, chemicals, bites and stings, plants and mushrooms, and many other potentially toxic items.


“Unfortunately, it is common to have children coming into the emergency room with ingestions that require treatment. Poison control gets thousands of calls a month on ingestions and poisonings,” Gilman said.


The Pediatric Emergency Center at Atrium Health Navicent Beverly Knight Olson Children’s Hospital is available 24 hours a day if poison exposure does occur. Designed specifically for children and families, the children’s hospital, located at 888 Pine Street in Macon, is staffed by board-certified pediatric specialists.


For more information about children’s services, visit ChildrensHospitalNH.org.

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