Poison prevention includes using medication safely
By: James Rogers, M.D.
March is poison prevention month. Each year, poison control centers across the U.S. get over two million reports of potential exposure to poisons. Nearly all exposures occur in the home, and most involve children age four or younger.
A poison is a substance that has toxic effect and may injure or make you sick after exposure.
Poisons can come from many sources and in a number of forms. Household cleaners and chemicals are harmful if ingested. Certain aerosols and other airborne poisons attack through a person’s airways. Some poisons burn or cause irritation to the skin. Finally, medications and vitamins can be harmful when taken in the wrong dose or in combination with other substances that react with it.
Signs of potential poisoning include: difficulty breathing and speaking, dizziness, confusion, unconsciousness, tremors, seizures cramps, nausea and vomiting, drooling, burning of the mouth and throat pain.
If you suspect a poisoning, contact your local poison control center or medical professional immediately. The number for the U.S. National Poison Control Hotline is 1-800-222-1222. When you make the call, be prepared (if possible) to give the name of the poison or product consumed, amount and when consumed, age and weight of victim. Unless directed, do not try to make the person vomit.
The best defenses against poisons are to make them inaccessible and to use them safely when needed. In general there are certain, common sense, guidelines to follow with all potential poisons.
Store them out of reach and out of sight of children, when possible in a locked cabinet or in a cabinet that is equipped with a childproof latch. This includes items in the house as well as garage, storage shed and in the yard.
Store in original containers. Do not transfer to food containers, milk jugs or coffee cans.
Keep potential poisons stored away from other items, such as food. Do not store them next to each other in the same cabinet.
When using potentially hazardous substances, never mix them together. This could produce harmful fumes.
Never leave a poisonous product unattended around children, even for just a minute. Don’t let yourself get distracted by a telephone or doorbell. When you are finished using the product, put it away immediately.
Keep the number of your local poison control center near your phone.
Over-the-counter medications and vitamins
Vitamins, prescription and over-the-counter medications can be poisonous if not taken correctly. There are some special considerations to ensure that the medications in your home are used safely.
First and foremost, read the label carefully before taking or giving any medication. With over-the-counter medications, check the active ingredients, along with the symptoms they are meant to treat. This is especially important if you are taking more than one medication at a time. For instance, some cold medications contain a pain-relieving ingredient, such as acetaminophen. If this is the case, then you do not want to take another pain reliever, such as Tylenol (which contains acetaminophen) along with that cold medication.
Check to see if there are any warnings listed. This might include possible interactions with other medications. Some medications cause drowsiness or should be taken on a full stomach or with a glass of water. With some, you should avoid alcohol or tobacco products. If you have allergies, check the list of inactive ingredients to make sure the medication won’t cause an allergic reaction.
Read for special storage instructions. Some prescription medications need to be refrigerated, others kept at room temperature.
Check the dosage chart each time you take a medication or administer it to a child. Some charts list ages and weight. If given the choice, administer according to weight. Some medications come with dosage cups, and these cups can differ slightly from one medication to another. Check the numbers on the dosage cup carefully to make sure you are giving the correct amount.
Check the date on your medications. Throw out any that are beyond their expiration dates.
Whenever possible, buy nonprescription medications in child-resistant containers. Return the cover securely after each use.
If you are taking medication, try to do so out of sight of children.
When giving medications to children, never refer to them as “candy.” It can be confusing for a child and make the child more likely to try to eat more “candy” when you aren’t watching. Never give children medication intended for adults, and do not give over-the-counter cough and cold medications to children under two unless directed to do so by your doctor.
Some medications are made for infants, others for children. It is important to make this distinction, because infant drops are often more concentrated than regular children’s medication. While a teaspoon of children’s medication might be the correct dosage for your four-year-old, a teaspoon of the same brand of infant medication would be too much.
We usually don’t think of medications as potentially poisonous, but when given incorrectly they can be just that. This is especially true for children. Because of their smaller body weights, just a little extra medication can be too much. Storing medications in a safe place and following guidelines for safe administration can ensure that they do what they were intended to: make us feel better and alleviate symptoms associated with illness. If you have any questions about medication administration, be sure to ask your own health care provider for his or her recommendations.
Dr. Rogers is a board certified family practice physician at Raiter Clinic.