CHARLESTON — People of all ages are at risk for poisonings, especially if caution isn’t always exercised at the impressive number of items that can cause them.
According to Carissa McBurney, Community Outreach Coordinator with the West Virginia Poison Center, young children, teenagers and seniors are at risk for poisonings due to a variety of factors, be it curiosity, a sense of invincibility, a large number of prescribed medications or virtually any other reason.
The WVPC sent the following tips for all three age groups:
“Children are fast. Children are curious. Leaving a product available to a child for even a few seconds can be dangerous and result in a poisoning,” the WVPC stated. “The best way to avoid these accidental poisonings is to limit the number of potential poisons in your home. If a product is not being used regularly, don’t keep it around — ‘use it or lose it.’”
Prescription medications, non-prescription medications (those purchased “over-the-counter”), herbal medications, neutraceuticals, and vitamins can all be dangerous if used improperly, the WVPC stated. Said items can be dangerous if a child eats them. If the medicine hasn’t been used for a while, it is easy to forget that they are even in the house.
“Medications that are forgotten about are often left unsecured,” the WVPC stated. “In addition, a child may be allowed to play in an area that the caregiver forgot contained unused medication.”
The WVPC suggests that if a medicine is no longer needed, to dispose of it properly. If medicine must be in the home for use, keep a regular inventory of the medications and store them away from children.
• Household products
Many homes contain closets or cabinets full of household cleaners and products that are rarely used. The more cleaners and products that are in the home, the more likely it is that a child will find a way to get into it. As with unused medications, it is the unused household items that one often forgets is within a child’s reach or in the area they are playing.
“If you don’t use the product, dispose of it or give it to someone who will use it (in its original container of course!). If it isn’t in the home, a child cannot eat it,” the WVPC stated.
“Teens are curious. Teens try new trends. Teens accept dares from friends. Having certain products around the home could spark a teen’s curiosity and result in a poisoning,” the WVPC stated. “The best way to avoid these events is to limit the number of potential poisons in your home.”
• Avoiding misuse of medicines
Unfortunately, prescription pain and sleep or anxiety medications can be misused or abused by teens. The WVPC encourages parents to discard their prescription pain or sleep/anxiety medications once they are no longer being used. If these types of medications are stored because they are required for future use, lock them up and be aware of how many tablets remain in the bottle.
“Teens do not always understand that the use of someone else’s prescription medications is not only dangerous but illegal,” the WVPC stated. “They may not consider themselves as ‘abusing’ drugs if it is ‘just their parent’s pain medicine’ or ‘just their parent’s sleeping medicine.’”
According to the WVPC, a teen who is upset about something at school or at home might see no harm in taking one or two pills. In addition, a teen may see no harm in providing a few tablets to a classmate who asks them to let them have some; especially if a friendship with that person is something they desire.
• Safety during sports and activities
It is important for teens playing sports and staying active to be hydrated. However, teenagers may not know the difference between a “sports drink” and an “energy drink.”
“Sports drinks are meant to provide extra fluids and electrolytes,” the WVPC stated. “On the other hand, energy drinks also contain caffeine. While some daily caffeine intake is not harmful, the consumption of energy drinks throughout the day can quickly result in the inadvertent exposure to excessive amounts of caffeine being ingested.”
Parents should review the amount of caffeinated products being consumed on a daily basis by their teen. Make sure to add up the amounts in the caffeine, soda, energy bars, energy drinks, water enhancers, and non-prescription energy tablets that are being consumed regularly.
“Many seniors are prescribed medications. Multiple medications, complicated medication regimens, changing medication regimens and dosing instructions all increase the risk of an accidental poisoning from a medication,” the WVPC stated. “Add these risks to diminishing vision and other health related problems (for example, the onset of dementia) and it is not surprising that seniors are at risk for accidental poisonings from medications.”
Diminishing vision and other health problems also increases the risk for accidental poisoning from household products as well. The best way to decrease this risk is, like with the other age groups, to limit the number of medications and potential poisons in the home.
Proper medication disposal helps seniors avoid accidental medication errors, such as:
— When prescribed a new medication, always ask if it replaces a medication or should it be taken in addition to a current medication. If it replaces a medication, dispose of the medication that will no longer be used.
— When the dosage of a medication is changed, dispose of the old dosage of medication.
• Mistaken Identity
Many household products can be mistaken for food or medication products due to their similar looks.
Examples of such mistakes:
— “Super glue” may be confused as eye drops
— Tubes of topical ointments could be confused as toothpaste
— Mouthwash may be confused for a drink
— Certain medications may be confused for candy, such as “ex-lax” and pieces of chocolate
The WVPC also suggests limiting the types of non-medication products that are stored next to medications. For example, avoid storing products not meant to be used for dressing and personal cleaning in the bathroom. Keep the home repair and household cleaners in a separate room and bring them into the bathroom only when they are to be used in that space. Store medications away from food storage and preparation areas. Keep them in the bathroom area if possible. If medications must be stored in the kitchen, keep them in a designated area and get in the habit of never storing food, drinks, or household products nearby.
If a poisoning occurs:
Call the West Virginia Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222. The WVPC is free and confidential and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.