After a long winter and a rainy spring, summertime in Illinois is great time of year. Picnics, BBQ, hiking, festivals and lots of outdoor fun with friends and family make the Prairie State the place to be. With all the activity however, sometimes small children will eat non-food products and chemicals as they explore new environments and situations. The Illinois Poison Center case volume in the summer is about 15% higher than in the winter – almost all due to unintentional, exploratory pediatric ingestions. Most pediatric ingestions called to the IPC – 95% of them – can be managed at home with simple first aid instructions, but about 5% of cases need to be seen in an emergency department as severe symptoms may occur. Here are some of the common cases we get in the summer months ranging from the not so good to potentially bad to really ugly ingestions.
Chalk: The IPC has many cases each year regarding small toddlers eating chalk when making driveway art. Chalk is made out of calcium carbonate, a soft rock which is actually a salt and is not a toxic material when licked or eaten in small amounts by a child. It can however be a choking hazard, so small pieces should be kept out of reach of small children.
Glow Sticks: Every 4th of July, the IPC mantra is “the glow sticks are coming, the glow sticks are coming!” We get dozens of cases in the few days before and after the national holiday every year.
Glow sticks contain different types of chemicals depending on color and manufacturer, none of which are terribly toxic in small amounts, but still should be treated with respect. Most exposures on the skin or mouth will have little or no effect, especially if washed off quickly. More severe reactions including mouth or throat irritation, vomiting, skin irritation or redness are possible, but these should all be self-limited and resolve quickly.
The Potentially Bad:
Use of mosquito and tick repellant is recommended by the CDC in areas where West Nile and Zika viruses (spread by mosquitos) and Lyme and other tick-borne diseases are present. Some of recommended active ingredients in insect repellant include DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol and 2-undecanone. Oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol are not approved for use in children under the age of three, however.
DEET is the best studied of the insect repellant and formulations over 30% should not be used on children; high potency formulations of over 95% are commercially available. Ingestions of high potency formulations can be dangerous and are associated nausea, vomiting, hypotension, encephalopathy, seizures, and coma. Fortunately this is very rare.
The choice of repellant to use is based on the time outdoors as different repellants ‘wear off’ at different times. Click here for a great tool to help with the best insect repellant choices for you and your family.
Hydrocarbon Ingestions: light hydrocarbon ingestions in small children are potentially fatal if the substance in aspirated into the lungs. Common examples of products include tiki torch fuel, BBQ lighter fluid and gasoline for gas-powered lawn equipment.
(Source: Consumerist – Tiki Torch fuel looks like apple juice)
Small ingestions of these liquids by themselves may not be very toxic unless they are breathed into the lungs. If the lungs are affected, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath may be seen with progression to respiratory failure and death in severe cases.
It is very important to keep lamp oils, BBQ lighter fluids or other hydrocarbons high, out of sight and out of reach of curious children and to never place them near areas where food is being served.
The Illinois Poison Center website has a lot of information with helpful summer safety tips. Here are a couple of links with information on preventing these and other common summertime poisonings.
If you have any questions on summer safety or poisonings, call us at 1-800-222-1222 – it’s free and confidential!