Poisons, according to the Poison Control Center, are any substance considered to be harmful. Poisons can be swallowed, splashed into the eyes, spilled on the skin, or breathed in. Medication becomes poison when it is taken by the wrong person, or in the wrong amount.


Babies between the ages of seven to twelve months move around a good deal, and they seem to get into everything. At this age they can pull objects down from tables and shelves that they were not able to reach earlier; and they tend to put everything into their mouth. It is easy for them to reach products stored in areas such as cupboards under sinks and coffee tables. Plants are also a common problem for children because they tend to experiment by chewing on them.


Household products poison many children every year. When children are between one and three years old they can really get into things. They explore by putting objects in their mouth. Their taste sense is not well developed, so they will drink or eat seemingly distasteful substances. They are very curious, very mobile, and they can reach things that are stored above their eye level. Remember, too, that children between three and five years old will imitate behavior. If you put things into your mouth they will want to do so, too.


There are countless ways children get into drugs and chemicals. The scenarios for trouble are almost endless. Events in a normal adult’s environment may be catastrophic for a young child. For instance, many people keep vitamins and prescription pills on the kitchen table so they will not forget to take them. These become handy for a toddler, mimicking his parent, to “take” them also. Some other potentially disastrous circumstances are these: baby has wet hands and puts his fingers into the dishwasher detergent and rubs his eyes; baby chews on a plant when you are visiting friends and she begins to go into convulsions; baby decides to try your mouthwash. It is to be expected that children might want to get into the alcohol cabinet, but did you know that a mouthful of some mouthwashes also has enough alcohol to cause problems? We do not tend to think of alcohol as being a poison, but it can be deadly.



Once while flying in a plane, I read a short story about a certain brand of crayons with a high lead content that was available in the United States. Next to me, my child was playing with some crayons that the flight attendant had given us. They were the same type that the article described. The airlines no longer use this brand of crayons.



We must try to anticipate every possible situation where a child can get into chemicals, medicines, alcohol, or any other substance that might cause your child harm. Parents and caregivers have to concern themselves not only about their own medications, but also the medications belonging to visitors in the child’s home. It is far too common for children to overdose on medication from someone who is just visiting. We must be extremely careful and attuned to the changing environment of our children; every day a hazard to them might escape our notice.


Many poisonings have happened at the home of grandparents. For example, grandpa’s bottle of denture cleaner falls from the cabinet onto the floor and baby gets into it. Or a child is placed in grandmother’s bed for a nap, and grandmother happens to keep her heart pills on the night table. Even though grandparents, obviously, have raised their own children, they may have forgotten how quickly children can get into trouble. Their normal routine may be to leave their medication on the kitchen table and forget about the danger when the grandchildren are visiting.


Poisonings are the fourth most common cause of death among Canadian children. The majority of poisonings occur in those younger than 5 years at home and involve medicines. Personal care products, plants and household cleaners are also common poisons.


Learn about the poison control center in your area. Check the phone book for the number in your area and keep the number close to your phone. Poison proof your home. Know what substances are poisonous and their locations. Here are some poison hazards you can prevent:


1.  Baby Products and Personal Care Products


·       Keep all baby care products in a safe place. Surprisingly, many baby care products found in the nursery can make your child sick. For example, many medications for navel cord care contain alcohol, and ingesting even very small amounts can be dangerous for an infant.


·       Baby creams and oils should be kept away from your child. If your child ingests them, vomiting and diarrhea can result. These substances can also be aspirated into your child’s lungs, where they can cause more serious problems.


·       Keep all medications out of reach of your children at all times. Medicine cabinets and storage cabinets for household cleaners should be kept locked and off-limits at all times. Return hazardous items to safe storage immediately after use.


·       When you are giving your child medications, read the directions carefully. Do not administer medicine in the dark. It is too easy to make a mistake.


·       Never call medications candy. Children will not learn to distinguish pills they may find around the house from “candy.”


·       Do not take medications in front of your child. Little eyes may be watching and a child could imitate you.


·       Keep the medications in the original container. The lid should be child resistant. And remember that just because pill bottles are child resistant does not mean they are child-proof. Poisonings have happened when parents did not properly replace the lids on child-resistant containers.


·       Get rid of old medications that you will not be using. Most drug stores will dispose of them safely for you.


·       Store products in original containers. Pour solutions carefully so the labels stay dry and readable.


·       Personal care products, perfumes, and even cosmetics can be a serious poisoning risk. For example, many mouthwashes and skin products contain alcohol. It takes very little alcohol to put a child into an alcohol coma.


·       If you have company visiting, make sure your child will not get into their luggage, toiletries, and medications.


·       When you travel, keep track of the toiletries and medications in your luggage. Remember that may poisonings happen in the home of grandparents.


·       Purchase products with childproof packaging.



2.     Chemicals in the Home, Yard, and Garage


·       When using a substance such as furniture polish, cleanser, or any other kind of chemical, make sure you put it away immediately when you are finished with it, and before you do anything else. Keep detergent and bleach out of children’s reach. Many poisonings occur when the child is left alone for just a few seconds.


·       Never put products such as gasoline, oil, or turpentine in pop bottles. Children may think it is pop and drink it.


·       Use safety latches to help keep chemicals and other substances away from children. However, never put all of your trust in safety latches; they are not 100% childproof.


·       Even empty containers may have enough residue of the original substance to poison your child. Remember, little bodies do not need to ingest nearly as much of a poisonous substance as you would, to become very sick.


·       Keep batteries away from children. The small button-like batteries that are found in calculators and watches have been, on occasion, swallowed or choked on by children. The acid from inside other batteries is potentially dangerous. Young children have enough energy; they don’t need the extra power. Seriously, remember that these batteries could kill.


·       Do not keep chemicals such as drain cleaners under the sink in the kitchen or bathrooms. Keep them out of reach or in a locked cupboard.


·       Remember to keep the chemicals in your yard and garage out of reach. All too frequently children in the back yard with mom and dad get into toxic substances when their parents are distracted for only a second.


·       Use extreme caution if you are using fertilizers, or pest or weed killers. Grass or plants will still have toxins on their foliage hours after the application of pesticides. Insect or animal poisons may be moved from where you put them to another location. Store these products safely, and when you do use them, read and follow the manufacturer’s directions.


·       Open doors and windows before using products that have fumes.



A family went to visit friends who lived on a farm. While the adults visited, the children, two and five years of age, played behind the couch in the family room. The two year-old boy suddenly fell to the floor, unconscious. The child appeared to have had a seizure. A small grain of oat or barley was found in his mouth. Searching the house, the adults found mouse poison behind the couch. Grains of the poison were piled in a crack of the family room baseboard; originally the poison had been placed in the basement, and presumably it was moved by a mouse. The five year-old said that her brother was playing with the grain and ate several pieces of it. The boy collapsed about ten minutes after ingesting the poison. The child was in a coma for three days; fortunately, he was discharged after a two-week stay in the hospital.





3.  Plants


Plants are found in most homes and in just about every yard. What many people fail to realize is that many of the plants and shrubs that adults take for granted are poisonous – especially to children. Ingesting even small portions of some of the plants found around the house can cause reactions ranging from mild distress to serious complications, such as having airway swelling and closure or having a complete kidney shutdown. The result could be the death of a child.


The first step toward the prevention of this kind of poisoning is to be able to recognize the type of plants you have. If you are not sure whether the plants you have are poisonous, you can check with a local florist, nursery, or your local poison control center.


The seriousness of plant poisoning depends upon the amount swallowed. Ingesting even a small amount of some plants can be dangerous. People may be harmed in several ways: there may be irritation of the stomach and intestines; there may be poisoning of the system; there may be mouth and throat lining irritation; and/or there may be skin irritation. The seriousness of the poisoning usually depends upon the amount of the toxin with which the person has come into contact. If you suspect plant poisoning, call the Poison Control Center immediately. Some poisonous plants are listed below.










Bird of Paradise






Jerusalem Cherry


Black Locust

Elephant’s Ear




English Ivy






Wild Parsnip

Calla Lilly




Castor Bean







Copyright 1995 Safety Health Publishing Inc.


Martin Lesperance is a fire fighter/paramedic and is the author of the best selling book “Kids for Keeps: Preventing Injuries to Children”. Martin delivers keynote presentations dealing with injury prevention. His talks are funny, but still have a strong underlying message. Visit his website at www.safete.com