Half of the calls received by the IPC involve kids under the age of 6. Young children are naturally curious and explore their environments by touching and putting things into their mouths. They learn by imitation, their taste buds are immature and they do not understand cause and effect. Plus they are just small, so in many cases it doesn’t take much to overwhelm their little systems. The IPC recommends keeping all potentially harmful substances away from children, because just about anything can be a poison in the right amount. The following 5 things are in many households and it may surprise you that they can be so harmful.
- Nicotine Everyone knows that smoking cigarettes is unhealthy, however, ingesting tobacco and nicotine products can be extremely dangerous. Toddlers get into cigarettes, ashtrays and chewing tobacco (which can smell like mint, vanilla or cherry) more often than you may think. And we’ve all seen someone ash their smoke into an empty can or use a spit cup with chewing tobacco. There is also a whole host of smoking cessation products that contain nicotine: gum, lozenges, patches, and sprays. Effects of nicotine poisoning include vomiting, sweating, lethargy and tremors in mild poisoning and confusion, paralysis, and seizures in severe poisoning. As little as one full cigarette, 3 butts, or one piece of nicotine chewing gum swallowed by a toddler can be toxic.
- Lamp Oil Lamp oil is an often sweet smelling or colorful liquid found in Tiki torches and decorative oil lamps. Lamp oil is a volatile, low-viscosity hydrocarbon. If it is ingested and goes straight down the hatch into the stomach and stays there, it is not really a problem. The issue is when it goes down the wrong pipe and gets into the lungs (known as aspiration). The oily slippery substance gets deep down, causing injury to the lungs and interfering with oxygen transfer to the blood. Kids can be drawn to lamp oil because it smells good, looks pretty, or because it is in a bottle resembling a beverage. They take a sip, and as soon as it hits their throat they realize it is NOT tasty, so they try to spit it out and in the process it goes down the wrong pipe. Or, they swallow it but will vomit it back up and due to lamp oil’s chemical characteristics, it can very easily slip down into the lungs on the way up. Symptoms include coughing, gagging and severe trouble breathing. A study by the IPC showed that 10% of all pediatric lamp oil ingestions result in an admission to the intensive care unit of a hospital because of the damage it causes in the lungs.
- Table Salt and Baking Soda Number three takes us into the kitchen. There’s a salt shaker on practically every dining table in the country and baking soda is known to be useful for everything from baking cookies, to deodorizing refrigerators to cleaning. Ingestion of these substances has also been associated with some home remedies; unfortunately a large amount of either one can be dangerous. Table salt is sodium chloride; sodium and chloride are electrolytes that are crucial in the way our bodies function at the cellular level. Too much, and it throws just about everything out of whack. As little as 1 level tablespoon (ingested all at once) can cause seizures in a toddler and 2 tablespoons can be fatal. The chemical name for baking soda is sodium bicarbonate. We know why sodium is bad, and the bicarbonate part is toxic because it is basic (opposite of acidic). In order for the body to function properly, our blood has to be at neutral pH. Too big a change in either direction = bad news. One tablespoon of baking soda ingested by an infant is enough to significantly change blood pH.
- Muscle Rubs like Bengay® The active ingredient of many muscle rubs is called methyl salicylate. This chemical is very similar to aspirin. Aspirin poisoning causes symptoms such as ringing in the ears, vomiting, drowsiness, fluid in the lungs, and seizures. One tablespoon of extra strength cream is the equivalent to 19 aspirin 325mg tablets or 78 of the low dose/baby aspirin tablets! Fortunately not many children can eat a full tablespoon, but to be safe, make sure to keep this product far out of reach of kids.
- Mouthwash Many mouthwashes contain ethanol, which is the same kind of alcohol that is in beer or wine. Alcohol kills bacteria, which is why it is used in mouthwash: to fight bad breath. Scope® contains 15% alcohol (about the strength of wine) and Listerine ® contains 22% alcohol (about half the strength of vodka or whiskey). Mouthwash is a pretty blue or green color and can be sweet, minty and tasty. If a 25 pound toddler drank just 1 ounce of Listerine®, he or she would be legally drunk and drinking 3-4 ounces is enough to cause major toxicity like low blood sugar or coma. Other household substances that contain ethanol include body splash, perfume, aftershave, and hand sanitizer.
To keep kids safe, make sure these and all other potentially harmful substances are out of reach and sight of children. Always call the IPC after ingestion or exposure to any potentially harmful substance, no question too big or small: 1-800-222-1222.
Don’t forget to check out the “My Child Ate…” resource center which gives toxicity level and treatment information for the most common substances/products ingested by children.