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Doctors Surprised by Poisoning Risks for Babies Under 6 Months Old

The Short of It

A new study published in the journal Pediatrics looks at the types of accidental baby poisonings, and the results surprised pediatricians.

The Lowdown

I was surprised to learn infants are just as susceptible to accidental poisoning as older kids are. And lead author Dr. A. Min Kang admitted to also being surprised by the finding in his study, noting, "Pediatricians typically do not begin poison prevention education until about 6 months of age, since the traditional hazard we think about is the exploratory ingestion—that is when kids begin to explore their environment and get into things they are not supposed to."

But a review of reports coming in to poison control centers over the past decade reveals 270,000 exposures in babies younger than 6 months old. Thankfully, 97 percent were unintentional, but about half of the calls involved a baby who had accidentally ingested a medication, and about one-third of the calls were made after a medication mistake. Almost half of the mistakes involved a dosing error, while 43 percent had to do with accidentally administering medication twice or too soon.

And what topped the list of accidental exposures? Acetaminophen, the drug in Tylenol. Kang notes acetaminophen is the most commonly recommended medication for young infants. The standardization of infant acetaminophen has likely lowered incidences of mistakes in recent years, however.

Other medicines that are misused for babies include antibiotics and ibuprofen, the drug in Advil, and those used to treat acid reflux, gastrointestinal problems, and cough and cold symptoms. Non-medical poisons that are often reported are diaper and rash creams, plants, lotions, and makeup.

The Upshot

Experts were unsettled by some of the medicines that made this list, namely ibuprofen and cough and cold meds, because they're not recommended for infants. Diaper creams listed as potential ingestion hazards for babies was not shocking, since a baby could easily grab a tube from the changing station.

The bottom line seems to be, even if your baby is younger than 6 months old and not very mobile, you can never be too careful. Keeping medicines, cleaners, and any other substances that may pose an accidental poisoning hazard out of your infant's reach is a must, along with constant supervision.

If you fear your baby may have been exposed to a poisonous substance, call the poison control hot line at 1-800-222-1222.

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