Poisoned by Grandma?

This week’s guest columnists are Drs. Chris Johnson and Traci Bourgeois, Family Practice residents at the University Hospital and Clinics here in Lafayette.

When I was three, a fun trip to my grandma’s became a trip to the Emergency Department. I found insecticide spray in her kitchen, tasted it, and brought it to mom saying it was yuck. The active ingredient was probably allethrin, a compound synthesized from crysanthemums.  Sounds all-natural, right? Except when it causes vomiting, muscle spasms, coma, and even death. In the ER they “pumped my stomach,” which means putting a tube down my throat and flushing saline solution in and out. I remember screaming for my mom (back then parents were kicked out of the room for such unpleasant procedures). To this day I get panicky when laying down for medical stuff. Worse, we always got gumbo at grandma’s, and I missed lunch!

While most parents are strict about home safety, this doesn’t always go for other places  a child might visit, like grandparents’, babysitters’, or in-home daycares. Even our own homes that we think are safe may not be with exploring, clever toddlers. Kids have been home more during the Pandemic, and if parents are working at home, they’re often concentrating on work, not the children. Poison Control Center calls jumped up 18% in March 2020.

While most parents keep cleaners locked up, some haven’t thought that hand sanitizer was a hazard, and we’ve all been using tons of that. Cleaner poisonings rose 35% from March to May 2020, and ingestions of surface disinfectants and hand-sanitizers rose 108%!  Toddlers eating sanitizer may sound like an innocent taste test, but they often contain 70% alcohol or more. That’s equal to the strongest liquors, like grain alcohol, that occasionally kill unfortunate fraternity pledges.

The lessons are clear: lock away all toxins, including medications, hand cleansers, and other chemicals so that even the smartest toddler can’t pry in. Crawl around your house on hands and knees, pulling on every door and cabinet, pushing every chair and step-stool to a counter or bathroom cabinet. If you can get at these hazards with reasonable ease, so can they!

Some toddlers just aren’t good about taking medicine. Unlike Dr. Bourgeois’s story above where she drank Grandma’s insecticide, some kids spits out medicines, hosing down mom with ibuprofen or amoxicillin. Sometimes to entice the child to take it, parents will say the medicine’s candy or juice.  After all, these are sweet things all kids like to eat, so why not try to fool them?  Which makes us wonder- what toddler gets candy? What kind of lousy diet are these kids on, that they know what candy is?

Besides being unnecessary for kids, invoking candy as an incentive can lead to anything colorful being regarded as candy or juice.  Including that poison under Grandma’s kitchen sink. Furthermore, toddlers usually can taste the difference between juice, candy, and medication.  Parents still end up wearing the Tylenol.

How do we get resistant children to take medicine? Drug companies and pharmacies make pediatric stuff taste as good as possible, but that’s a two-edged sword. The better it tastes, the more likely children will want to drink it when they’re not supposed to, leading to overdoses or kids taking other’s medication. Some medicines come as suppositories to put in the butt. They’re absorbed by the intestines, just like swallowed medicines, and they’re harder to spit out! Ultimately, medication can be injected, though you need to go to the pharmacy, doctor’s office, or hospital for those.

If your child takes something they shouldn’t, don’t panic.  First, call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222. They’re easier to get on the phone than your doctor, and can tell you if what the kid took is dangerous. They’ll tell you if you should call the ambulance, drive to the hospital yourself, or stay at home and not worry. Things like baby shampoo or most antibiotics, no sweat. Grandma’s insecticide- come in!

Prevention is the best medicine. Like we advised above, toddler-proof your house. This goes for parents, grandparents, babysitters, in-home daycares, anywhere that’ll host mobile children. They’ll slip out of sight and into stuff quicker than you think, even if it’s just an afternoon visit. Get on your hands and knees and explore the potential hazards before they do.

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