Remember the following tips during each season – but of course, be aware of these poisons all year round, too. If you suspect someone has been poisoned, right away call the Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222, which connects you to your local poison center.
Kids are back in school. Cold and flu season is here. Holidays are just around the corner – be mindful of food safety concerns surrounding your family. Here are some other tips to help you prevent poisonings during this busy time of year.
- Keep medicines, vitamins, diet supplements, and household products in the containers they came in (i.e., tight, possibly child-proof lids). Keep them locked up where children cannot see or reach them, particularly those medicines that taste, smell, or look like candy or drinks. Do this at home and when traveling.
- Tell your doctor about all medicines you are taking and be careful when taking multiple prescriptions. Be sure you are not using two or more products that contain the same drug. It’s common to overdose on the drug acetaminophen, so be extra careful.
- Read and follow directions and warnings on all labels before taking medicine. If you have questions about how to use your medicine, call your doctor or pharmacist or call Poison Help (1-800-222-1222), which connects you to your local poison center, if you have a question after hours.
- Talk to your doctor before taking any food supplements (such as vitamins, minerals, or herbs).
- Never take medicine in the dark.
- Never take other people's prescription drugs. Take only those that are prescribed for you.
- Only experts can tell poisonous mushrooms from safe mushrooms. Eating even a few bites of certain mushrooms can cause liver damage that can kill you.
- Poisonous mushrooms, called "death caps," often grow in yards and parks.
- Berries may attract children. Some berries that can harm people do not harm birds and other animals.
- If you think someone ate berries from a plant, right away call the Poison Help line (1-800-222-1222), which connects you to your local poison center. Poison center experts probably will not be able to identify the plant on the phone. A greenhouse or plant nursery can help identify your plants, so learn the names of the plants around your home just in case.
Back to school and art supplies
- Children often use art products (e.g., glue, paint, ink) at home, school, and day care. These art products are mixtures of chemicals. They can be dangerous if not used correctly, stored properly, or expired. Make sure children use art products safely by reading labels carefully, following the directions for safe use and disposal, and cleaning up tables, desks, and counters appropriately.
- Young children are likely to put pretty, colorful art products in their mouths. Additionally, if a product is splashed into the eyes or spilled onto skin, right away call the Poison Help line (1-800-222-1222), which connects you to your local poison center.
- Do not eat or drink while using art products.
Carbon monoxide (CO)
- Fall is usually the time we turn on heaters and generators. Make sure your heating system is running smoothly and the carbon monoxide detector has fresh batteries.
- For more information on CO, refer to winter tips.
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Many people think poinsettias and Christmas cacti are poisonous. They are not, but mistletoe should be kept where it cannot be reached by young children or pets. Here are some other dangers to watch out for in winter:
- Antifreeze is a poisonous liquid used in cars. It has a sweet taste that children and animals like. If even a little is swallowed, it can be harmful and can cause kidney damage and death.
- Keep antifreeze, household cleaners, and all chemicals in the containers they came in with a tight cap and keep away from children and pets.
- Before throwing away an antifreeze container, rinse it with water, and replace the safety cap.
- Salt used on driveways and sidewalks in winter can harm a pet or child if eaten.
- Store such salt out of reach and in a locked cabinet.
- Avoid using glass mercury thermometers. They can break in a child's mouth. Instead, use a digital thermometer.
- Stay with children when taking their temperature.
- Spilled mercury should be cleaned up properly as it is a hazardous waste. Call the Poison Help line (1-800-222-1222), which connects you to your local poison center, or your local health department for advice.
Carbon monoxide (CO)
- CO is a poisonous gas and has no color, odor, or taste. All fuel-burning devices make CO, mostly when they are not working properly or are not used in a ventilated space. CO can collect in closed areas.
- Sources of CO include gas furnaces, gas water heaters, gas stoves, gas ovens, kerosene space heaters, wood and gas fireplaces, wood-burning stoves, power generators, and car engines.
- People at greatest risk for CO poisoning include pregnant women, infants, young children, older people, people with diseases that affect breathing, and people with heart disease.
- Signs of CO poisoning are similar to signs of the flu and some cold-weather viruses: Headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and confusion.
To prevent CO poisoning in your home: Have at least one CO detector in your home. The best places for a CO detector are near bedrooms and close to furnaces. Have your heating system, vents, and chimney checked every year by experts. Always follow product instructions for installing and repairing appliances that burn fuel. Never burn charcoal inside a house or garage. Never use a gas oven to heat a house or apartment or use unvented fuel-burning devices indoors. Never run a car in a closed garage.
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As you begin spring cleaning and work on the yard, follow these simple tips to keep your family safe:
Household cleaners and other products
- Keep poisons in the containers they came in. Do not use food containers (such as cups or bottles) to store household cleaners and other chemicals or products. These should be stored away from food.
- Read and follow the directions for use of products and their disposal. Do this before using the products. Follow the advice carefully and never mix chemicals or household cleaners or detergents. Doing so can create a poisonous gas.
- Turn on fans and open windows when using chemicals or household cleaners, and never sniff containers to see what is inside.
- When spraying chemicals, direct spray nozzle away from people and pets.
- Even in small amounts, windshield wiper fluid is poisonous. If swallowed, it can cause blindness or death to people and pets. Use it carefully to avoid spraying it in someone’s face.
- Chemicals can burn the skin. Drain openers, toilet cleaners, rust removers, and oven cleaners can cause such burns.
- Liquids made from petroleum, such as gasoline, kerosene, charcoal lighter fluid, paint thinner, baby oil, lamp oil, and furniture polish, are poisonous.
- If these items are swallowed, they can easily get into the lungs. Even a small amount can cause breathing problems. The liquid coats the inside of the lungs and prevents oxygen from entering the blood stream.
- Pesticides (pest killers) can be taken in through the skin or inhaled and can be extremely poisonous. Even leather shoes and gloves do not offer full protection. Stay away from areas that have been sprayed until the spray has dried or for at least one hour.
- Wear protective clothing when using bug spray or other spray products. Put on a long-sleeve shirt, long pants, socks, shoes, and gloves. Remove and wash clothing after using chemicals.
- If pesticides are splashed onto the skin, rinse with running water for 15 to 20 minutes. If pesticide contacts clothing, take off the clothing before rinsing skin.
- Many garden chemicals are poisonous if swallowed or inhaled by children and adults.
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Summer is a time for enjoying the outdoors. However, it is important to remember that these favored months can bring an increase in the incidence of poisoning accidents for our children and others.
- Always wash hands and counters before preparing food. Use clean utensils for cooking and serving.
- Store, cook, and reheat food at the proper temperatures. Refrigerated foods should not be left out at temperatures above 40 degrees F (5 degrees C). The following foods, and others, can quickly spoil and become unsafe: party platters, meat, poultry, seafood, dairy products, eggs, mayonnaise, and cooked vegetables.
- Wash hands, cutting boards, utensils, and dishes with hot, soapy water after handling raw meat, poultry, or seafood.
- Do not let food sit out at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
- Watch for signs of food poisoning. They include fever, headache, diarrhea, stomach pains, nausea, and vomiting.
- Be alert to insects that may bite or sting, particularly bees, wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets. After a sting, the skin will show redness and swelling and may be itchy and painful.
- Insect stings may cause serious problems and even death for those who are allergic to them. Go to a hospital right away if you are stung and have any of these signs: hives, dizziness, breathing trouble, or swelling around eyes and mouth.
- If a poisonous snake bites you or someone you know, right away call the Poison Help line (1-800-222-1222), which connects you to your local poison center.
- The experts at your poison center will determine if the snake is poisonous. They will tell you what signs to watch for and what to do.
- If the snake is not poisonous, you will need to wash the wound. Check with your doctor to find out if you need a tetanus booster shot.
- Most spider and tick bites do not cause harm, but there are some spiders that can cause illness in some people. Two common spiders that can harm you are the female black widow and the brown recluse. A bite from one of these spiders can cause serious problems in a child, an older adult, or a person in poor health, but rarely causes death.
- The female black widow is a black, shiny spider. It has a red or orange hourglass shape on its underside. Within 2 hours after being bitten by one, you may feel stomach pain, dizziness, and muscle stiffness. You may have trouble breathing.
- The brown recluse is a yellowish-tan to dark brown spider. It has a small body and long legs. The brown recluse has a dark violin shape on its body. Within 36 hours after being bitten, you may see or feel signs of poisoning. You may feel restless and have fever, chills, nausea, weakness, a rash, or joint pain. A blister or wound may develop at the bite site, possibly in the shaped of a bull's eye (a blister with rings around). If the wound worsens, see a doctor. Most likely you will not need antibiotics.
- States known to be home to the brown recluse are AL, AR, FL, GA, IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MO, MS, NC, NE, NM, OH, OK, SC, TN, and TX.
Insect spray or lotion
- Be sure to check the label on any insect repellent. Be aware that most contain DEET, which can be dangerous in large quantities.
- Have an adult apply repellent to children. When using repellent on a child, put a little on your own hands, then rub them on your child. Avoid the eyes and mouth, and use only a little around the ears.
- Use separate products when there is a need for insect spray and sunscreen. Follow the label instructions. Do not use sunscreen that contains DEET. Repeatedly applying a product with DEET can increase the risk of harmful effects.
- For most products, after returning indoors, wash treated skin with soap and water. Check the label of the product you are using for more advice.
- If you are allergic to poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, touching it can cause blisters on your skin.
- Be sure that everyone in your family can identify these plants. Remember the phrase, "leaves of three, let it be."
- If someone touches one of these plants, rinse right away with running water for at least 5 minutes.
- Poison center experts may not be able to identify plants on the phone, so it is important before a poisoning occurs to learn the names of plants around your home.
- Call Poison Help (1-800-222-1222), which connects you to your local poison center, to find out more information.
Alcoholic drinks and products
- Alcohol can be a deadly poison for children because they are small and their livers are not fully developed. All of the following are dangerous for children: beer, wine, mixed drinks, other alcoholic beverages, facial cleaners, and mouthwash. Therefore, do not leave products containing alcohol where children can reach them.
- Alcohol will make a child sleepy. The child can develop low blood sugar. This can lead to seizures, coma, and death.
- Be alert at parties and gatherings. Children may find cups containing leftover alcohol within their reach.
- Oregon poison center (PDF - 69.3 KB)
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