By: Madhuri Davé, DO
As we start gathering for the holidays, as a Pediatric Emergency Medicine doctor and Mom of two young kids - a thought comes to my mind: safety during those busy holidays dinners with the extended family.
Kids, especially toddlers, are always on the move. Exploring, exploring, and oh yes, more exploring! From one to four years old, toddlers developmentally explore the world with constant hand-to-mouth motions. Unfortunately, dangerous substances can sometimes get into their systems through those motions, explorations, and experimentations - and it can happen faster than you may imagine. In particular, accidental ingestions can occur during times that adults can be overwhelmed or distracted (family gatherings, cooking meals for the holidays, balancing all that gift wrapping - the usual events this time of the year).
Poison Control Centers in the United States receive 1.2 million calls each year due to the accidental poisoning of children ages five and younger. Nearly 90% of these toxic exposures happen at home, and 60% involve non-pharmaceutical products such as cleaners, personal care products, pesticides, cosmetics, art supplies, toys, and alcohol.
As a mom to a toddler and an infant, I know how important it is to all of us to keep our kids safe. The holidays can get hectic. Thankfully, as parents we can take simple steps during the busy holiday season to protect our kids.
Here are a few tips to help prevent accidental ingestions:
- Keep toxic substances high and secure - lock them up and away
- The best place to keep medications or toxic products is in upper cabinets that children cannot open. Placing a lock and making sure they are secure can also help keep children out. Don't forget about toxic material in the garage and basements - often, children find danger in places we do not expect them to explore.
- Keep it original
- Keep medications and toxic products in their original packaging. You wouldn't believe how often accidental ingestion is caused by combining medications into one pill bottle or storing liquids in the wrong container. If your child does indeed ingest something, your doctor will want to know what it was, if possible, to help your child if they are sick.
- Know the Poison Control number (open 24 hours/7 days a week)
- The National Poison Control Center's phone number is 1-800-222-1222. It should be easily accessible. Save it in your cell phone or have it taped to the fridge. Or go old school and memorize it. If you think your kiddo has ingested a poisonous material and is awake and alert, call the poison center for help with the next steps. If your child is not breathing or has collapsed, call 911 immediately.
- Know what's in your home
- It's always good to know what medications are in your house – both prescriptions and over-the-counter.
- Don't Need it? Get rid of it.
- Clear out any potential toxic risks such as prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicine, vitamins, or household cleaners. You can return them at National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day events or local take-back programs. You can also place unused pills or liquid into a bowl and fill it with water to dissolve. Then add coffee grounds or kitty litter and seal the mixture tightly in a bag to dispose of in the trash.
- Be mindful of the dangers of batteries
- These are personally my worst fears. Especially those round button batteries. Ingestion of these can cause severe damage to the esophagus when swallowed and can be fatal. Make sure to store these away and check if items with batteries are securely tightened.
- Don't refer to medicine or vitamins as candy
- Getting children to take medication when needed can be a daunting task. However, try not to associate the medication with "yummy yummy" or pretend it is candy. Most adult medications are small colorful pills that can lead kids to eat them as treats mistakenly.
- Grandparents and relatives need a reminder!
- Older adults can have medicines that are very dangerous to kids, and their homes may not be as childproofed as yours. It's worth a quick and kind reminder to have things out of reach.
Just as our kids grow into new shoes, clothes, and toys, they also grow their skills - and develop unique ways of getting into things that we once thought were tucked away safely.
Continue to be mindful and re-evaluate regularly to make sure cleaning supplies are not left on the floor while you put away the vacuum, vitamins left on countertops (yes those little hands can reach) while you are checking on the food or the bag of paint for the holiday crafts laying around (yes kids will eat just about anything).
Since kids are natural explorers, it's our job to safeguard them and mitigate those risks a bit while our little ones embark on their journeys to investigate the world around them. As I'm writing this, I've been looking around my house and realize that I can still make many improvements to keep things out of my toddler's reach. I better get started now since I am hosting Christmas dinner this year! I should probably begin menu planning as well!
So take a look today and see if there are any things you can improve on in your own home before the most wonderful time of the year so you can host a safe, fun holiday gathering with your loved ones. You've got this!
Madhuri Gavva Davé, DO, is a Pediatric Emergency Medicine Fellow. In her spare time, she loves hanging out with her awesome husband and two sons! You can find them exploring outdoors, drawing pictures and making cookies & smoothies. Madhuri trained all over the Midwest, but says she is happy to be back home in Indiana and close to her entire family!