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Poison prevention tips and treatment options: a guide for families

It’s a parent’s worst nightmare. It’s early evening, and you’ve just set your toddler down to play while you tackle a sink full of dishes. Nearly finished, you turn to check on your little one, only to find them hiding under the table with a dish detergent pod in their mouth. What do you do? If you have small children in the home, you probably already know the importance of keeping prescription and OTC medicine out of sight and reach. However, medicine is not the only toxic household substance to be wary of. According to recent statistics from the National Capital Poison Center, cosmetics and personal care products are the most frequently implicated substance in pediatric poison exposures, followed closely by cleaning products. Other well-known household hazards include:
  • Insecticides
  • Rodenticides
  • Antifreeze
  • Foreign objects such as batteries
  • Paint
  • Certain houseplants
  • Essential oils
Poisoning occurs when a person is exposed to a toxic substance. While children make up the largest percentage of cases overall, poisoning is known to affect all age groups. In fact, adult poisoning exposures tend to be more serious on average, with adults over 19 accounting for over 98% of all poisoning fatalities in 2020.

The danger of lookalikes

Young children may be unable to distinguish brightly colored toilet cleaner from their favorite juice, or a laundry pod from gummy candy. Adults have been known to make similar errors, such as the case of the Michigan woman who grabbed a bottle without looking and mistakenly used nail glue instead of her eye drops. Many cases of accidental adult poisoning occur due to this kind of inattention. To prevent dangerous mix-ups from occurring, keep all potential poisons locked up and out of reach of children and pets. Avoid storing poisonous substances with food or in empty food and drink containers. When dealing with medication or personal care items, be sure to read the label carefully before using the product yourself or giving it to someone in your care.

When to suspect poisoning

Symptoms of poisoning may include:
  • Burns or redness around the mouth
  • Chemical smell on breath
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
When approaching a potential poisoning victim, you should also scan the area for obvious signs of poison exposure, such as scattered pills and open bottles of cleaning solution. In an emergency, you must always check your surroundings for safety before trying to assist a person in distress.


If conscious: At the first sign of poisoning, call the Poison Control hotline at 1-800-222-1222. Their team of experts can give you valuable first aid advice and possibly save you a trip to the emergency room, as not all medicines and household products are poisonous. With their assistance, you may then take appropriate steps to separate the poisoned individual from the exposure and prevent further harm. For instance, if you suspect the individual in your care may have swallowed something poisonous, make them spit to remove any lingering traces of the substance. Then, try to find out what was ingested and when, as paramedics will need to know that information should you need to contact emergency services. Do not try to induce vomiting yourself, as this may cause the poison to travel from the stomach and into the lungs, causing further injury. If a harmful substance has splashed onto someone’s skin or clothes, quickly remove any contaminated items and thoroughly wash the affected area with clean water. Wear gloves and take care to avoid touching the substance yourself. If unconscious: For an unconscious individual, immediately call 911 or designate someone else to do so while you provide first aid. Only contact Poison Control as your first course of action if the person is awake and breathing normally. Next, try to wake the person up by calling their name and gently but firmly tapping them on the shoulder. If that doesn’t work, check their breathing and heartrate. If needed, begin CPR and don’t stop until the person begins showing signs of life or a medical professional arrives to take over. If unresponsive but breathing normally, place them in the recovery position to keep their airways open and prevent them from choking should they vomit. Stay with them and continue to monitor the situation until the paramedics get there.

Resources and education

For more poison prevention tips and safety information, contact your local poison center or visit the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ website at Remember you can reach Poison Control any time by phone at 1-800-222-1222 or online at