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Poisoning in Children

Summer Safety Primer

By

Updated May 26, 2004

The parents of a 2-year-old boy called the Nebraska Regional Poison Center in Omaha last summer when he accidentally sprayed cleaning disinfectant into his eye. He developed a burn in the cornea. Another 2-year-old boy spent several days in the hospital and survived after drinking charcoal lighter fluid that had been left by the barbecue pit. In another case, a 3-year-old girl got into a bottle containing insecticide and died several days later.

"We see the calls go up every spring and summer," says Joan McVoy, a nurse at the poison center. Children may accidentally ingest sunscreens, berries, cleaning solvents, insect repellents, pesticides, plants and mushrooms, and hydrocarbons in the form of gasoline, kerosene, and charcoal fluid.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) no longer recommends that syrup of ipecac be used routinely to induce vomiting in poisoning cases. The main reason that the AAP changed its recommendation in 2003 was that, although it seems to make sense to induce vomiting to empty the stomach contents after a poisoning, research hasn't shown that ipecac-induced vomiting is beneficial in improving the clinical outcome of accidental poisoning cases.

Other concerns are that the continued vomiting caused by ingesting ipecac could prevent children from keeping down the activated charcoal they may be given in the emergency room. Charcoal binds to poison and keeps it out of the bloodstream. "There are also some substances that you don't want coming back up because they do more damage, such as drain cleaner and other corrosives," says Arlene Solbeck, an FDA scientist.

The FDA is considering various positions on the safety and effectiveness of ipecac syrup and whether it should still be made available over-the-counter or switched to prescription status.

What You Can Do

Dangerous substances, including medication, should be kept out of reach of children. In addition, substances should be kept in their original containers to avoid confusion or mistakes. Children who have ingested poisonous substances may experience difficulty breathing, throat pain, or burns to the lips and mouth.

If you suspect that a child has ingested a poison, call the poison center immediately to relay the type of poison ingested and get advice on what to do. If you dial the nationwide poison help line--(800) 222-1222--you'll be connected to your regional poison center. Convulsions, loss of breathing or loss of consciousness require calling 911 immediately. Take the poison with you to the emergency room, whether it's a part of a plant or the chemical's container.

More from the Summer Safety Primer:

reproduced from the FDA Consumer magazine

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