Preventing poisonings at home

Close up of adult cleaning a table with a cloth and spray bottle with a child looking on in the background

The Oregon Poison Center at OHSU received more than 50,000 calls from families and healthcare providers in our service area in 2020. The majority of poison exposure calls came from families who experienced a poison emergency – at home.

National Poison Prevention Week (March 21-27) is dedicated to raising awareness about poison control centers and the Poison Help Hotline (1-800-222-1222). It’s also a great time to evaluate home safety and consider ways to protect your family from poisonings.

Why this is important

The last year brought tremendous change to daily life for many of us. Routines have changed and families are now spending more time than ever at home. Our homes are full of everyday household products that can be dangerous if used in the wrong amount or by the wrong person. This includes medicines, personal care products and household cleaners, which are the most common reasons for calls to the poison center year after year.

In 2020, we noticed an increase in bleach and hand sanitizer exposure calls to the poison center. This is not surprising as we take extra steps to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by frequent cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces and sanitizing hands.

Pediatric poisonings make up more than half of the calls to the poison center in any given year, with the majority among young children under 6 years old. Children are at heightened risk for poisonings because of their physical size and developmental state. Young children are curious about their environments and may explore items within reach. Hand-to-mouth behaviors can lead to ingestions of poisonous substances and choking incidents.

Research by Safe Kids Worldwide, a pediatric injury prevention organization, reveals the impact that adult behaviors have on medicine-related poisonings. Their research found adults overestimate a child’s ability to accurately assess risk. Parents and caregivers may believe their child can identify a dangerous substance and act appropriately, when in fact they may not be able to. The research also found adults underestimate a child’s ability to reach dangerous items in the home. A determined child may climb or use furniture to reach something, making safe storage critically important. These research findings may have some application with other dangerous household products like cleaners, alcohol and marijuana. The bottom line is, where and how potentially dangerous items are kept and stored in the home affect a child’s access.

While many people associate poison control with young children, older children, teens and adults also experience poisonings. Their cases are typically more serious because of the types of substances and the amount of the substance they are exposed to.

Prevent poisonings at home

Poisonings are preventable. Reduce the risk of poisonings at home by following poison control’s recommended safety measures.

Safe storage

Medicine, alcohol, tobacco and vape products, marijuana, laundry detergents, cleaners and all chemicals in the home and garage should be stored up and away and out of reach of children. The best way to prevent an accident among young children and intentional misuse among older children is to lock up these products. A medicine lockbox or locking bag is a great option for safe storage. A basic cabinet lock or child safety lock on the cabinet where the products are stored can provide an extra measure of protection, especially when used in conjunction with a medicine lockbox.

Many of these items are available at the OHSU Doernbecher Tom Sargent Safety Resource Center. Give them a call at 503-418-5666.

Provide visitors a safe place to store purses, backpacks, suitcases and bags while visiting. These may contain medicine, cosmetics and personal care products that can be dangerous for children.

Household cleaners, detergents and other chemicals should be stored separately from food and drinks, and always kept in their original containers. This will reduce confusion and help identify contents in case of emergency.

Product safety

Read the product’s label and follow the directions for use every time. This includes medicine, cleaning products and other household chemicals. Labels describe important safety information, recommended PPE and directions for use including the dose and frequency of use.

Never pour household cleaners, vehicle maintenance products or other chemicals in beverage cups or water bottles. It’s easy to mistake liquid chemicals for a beverage when poured in a cup.

Household cleaners should never be mixed together. Certain combinations of products (like bleach mixed with ammonia) can create toxic gas and result in severe illness.

Read more about safe cleaning considerations.

Ensure proper ventilation when using household cleaners and chemicals. Open a window or door and run a fan blowing air away from the area.

Children should not handle household cleaners, lawn and garden products or any other household chemicals. Picking up toys and folding clothes are safer ways for children to help with chores.

Family education

Teach children from a young age not to touch, taste or smell anything they have not been given by a trusted adult. Visual cues like Mr. Yuk stickers can remind children not to touch dangerous products. The Oregon Poison Center provides educational materials and poison safety resources to the community free of charge. Visit our website to learn more about poison prevention at home, download materials and order poison center brochures, Poison Help magnets or Mr. Yuk stickers. Medicine lockboxes and other low-cost safety supplies are available at the Tom Sargent Safety Resource Center at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.

Poison Help

If you or a loved one is experiencing a poison emergency, call the Oregon Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222. A trained healthcare provider is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The call is free and confidential.

Prepare for a poison emergency by programing the poison control hotline into your mobile device by texting POISON to 797979. Share the number with babysitters, caregivers and relatives who may come into your home or care for your children.

Accredited by the American Association of Poison Control Centers, the Oregon Poison Center at OHSU is a designated regional poison control center for Oregon, Alaska and Guam.

Headshot of a smiling womanJennifer Eskridge, M.P.H., MCHES®
Community Outreach Educator, Web Manager
Oregon Poison Center
Oregon Health & Science University

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