This week’s guest columnist is Dr. Asma Khan, a Family Practice resident at the University Hospital and Clinics here in Lafayette.
9 pm: a frantic call from my sister. She was in the kitchen warming a bottle for her infant, went back into the kids’ room, and found her 2 year-old daughter with her purse. Diet pills were scattered about and a half chewed one in the girl’s mouth. Though the daughter wasn’t showing any signs of distress, my sister sure was! She wailed through the phone, “What do I do?”
This is a classic accidental ingestion, and a serious concern for parents. In the 1970′s, the Consumer Product Safety Commission mandated that medicines be sold in child-resistant packaging. This requirement has saved countless lives. Also in the past 50 years the advent of Poison Control Centers has reduced deaths among children who get into medicines.
Fast forward to now, we still see children in the Emergency Department with ingestions. In 2014, the 55 U.S. Poison Control Centers provided telephone guidance for nearly 2.2 million people, mostly for children under age six. Many more come to the ER. This begs the question: why, with “child-proof” containers, are kids still getting into these things?
One big reason is the proliferation of medicines in households. Many adults are on 2 or more prescription medications, and most also have over-the-counter medicines like Tylenol and cold relievers. Parents try to store them in high cabinets, but they sometimes miss pills in purses or left on counter tops. Adults who are sick or have sick children may keep medicine close at hand to be convenient for the next dose. Abundant medicine within reach becomes a field day for curious toddlers.
How can parents prevent children from ingesting these things? First, pick a safe storage spot that kids can’t see or reach. Know that any medicine or vitamin can cause harm, even those without a prescription. Put medicines away after every use- never leave them on a kitchen counter or child’s bedside table- children sometimes try to help parents by taking the medicine themselves.
Putting medicines in high cabinets is often not enough. I know one ex-toddler named Brian who would go exploring in the middle of the night. Once at 2 am his mom heard noises from the kitchen and found him standing on the counter (having pushed the stool over as a ladder), and was getting a hammer out of the cabinet above the refrigerator.
Knowing Brian’s abilities, his father installed hook-and-eye latches on the house doors so he couldn’t get out. Some nights later the parents heard more noises and found him wandering outside anyway. He had used a broom handle to push the latch up, and out he went! Soon all the cabinets in the house had locks, and the door latches had spring-loaded catches that couldn’t be jimmied from below.
Like we discussed above, toddlers sometimes get into medicines and accidentally poison themselves, despite having those medicines in high cabinets. Many children have super-toddler abilities like Brian. Fortunately, most medicines have safety caps that click to tell you they’re closed safely. Some are so toddler-resistant that adults have a hard time getting them open- this is good! But sometimes adults have so many pills, and have such a hard time with child-proof caps, that they put their medicines in a weekly pill organizer. These are NOT toddler-proof, and should be treated with EXTREME CAUTION with kids around.
Never tell kids that medicine is candy to get them to take it. Instead, explain that taking medicine is for feeling better. If kids are told it’s candy, and then they see grandma taking “candy” from her pill organizer, where to you think they’ll go next?
Sometimes we have guests in our homes, especially during holidays. There’s hustle and bustle, and lots of curious, exploring kids. Discuss medication safety with your guests. Help them keep purses, bags, and coats with medications out of reach.
Finally, before you find yourself in a toddler-ingestion situation, be prepared with Poison Control’s phone number handy. It’s 1-800-222-1222. Put that in your house and cell phone. Before you run to the ED, they can advise about whether you need to go in, call 911, or not worry.
Take care with household medicines and kids. Because nothing is really toddler-proof.