Poison Prevention

by Carden Johnston, M.D.

Poison Prevention

For years, pediatricians have advised parents to keep syrup of ipecac on hand to induce vomiting in the event their child swallows a potentially poisonous substance. But that's changed. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently recommended that ipecac no longer be used at home after research failed to show any benefits of the treatment. There's also concern that parents may use ipecac improperly or that the widespread availability of the drug may allow those with eating disorders to abuse it. Here are the new poison-prevention recommendations:

Know the facts

The number of deaths from accidental poisonings has dropped dramatically over the past 50 years-from 500 per year in the 1940s to only 25 in 1997, thanks to child-resistant caps on drugs and other consumer products, safer medications, the establishment of poison control centers, more sophisticated medical care resources, and public education. Still, in 2001, a full 1.2 million children under the age of 6 swallowed potentially poisonous substances. And that's way too many.

Poison-proof your home

When it comes to poisons, an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure. Keep potential poisons out of sight and out of reach, preferably in a locked cabinet. The most dangerous substances are: medicines (including iron pills), certain household products (drain openers, rust remover, toilet or oven cleaners), antifreeze, windshield-washer solution, hydrocarbons (furniture polish, lighter fluid, paint thinner), carbon monoxide, and pesticides. Never store these substances in anything but their original containers.

Always reengage child-resistant caps and lids in the "locked" position right after using items such as prescription and over-the-counter medicines. Don't refer to medicines as candy, and safely dispose of all unused drugs and those you no longer need.

Be prepared

Know what to do in the event of an emergency. If your baby swallows a poisonous substance and is conscious and alert, call the poison control center immediately at 800-222-1222. This is the national number for the United States, and your call will be routed to the poison control center in your area. If your baby has lost consciousness or stopped breathing, however, call 911 for emergency transportation to the nearest hospital, then begin CPR. Have these emergency phone numbers handy by posting them near all telephones.

Supervise your child closely at all times

It's the surest way to protect him from an accidental poisoning or any other potential injury. For more information, talk to your pediatrician or visit the AAP website at