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posted: 11/28/2011 6:00 AM

Parents need to be proactive to avoid child poisoning

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Q. My daughter recently turned 2. Now that she is more mobile (and more curious), I'm increasingly worried about home safety. I have childproofed much of my home, but I still worry about poisoning from household chemicals. How can I keep her safe?

A. You definitely want to childproof your home, as child poisonings are common in the United States. In fact, most unintentional poisonings involve children younger than age 6. Why? Because young kids have a lot more curiosity than knowledge.

Young children don't understand the concept of a poison. They can't read and understand warning labels. Kids under age 3 are particularly fascinated by containers; bottles or boxes of any type draw young kids like a magnet. And poisons come in containers.

Young kids who see a new object, like a container, often explore it with their mouth. When you and I see a new object that we want to explore and understand, we touch it, move it, look at it from various angles. But we don't put it in our mouth.

Given that kids are fascinated by containers and explore them with their mouth, it's not surprising that most child poisonings come from swallowing a toxic chemical. What may be surprising is that this usually happens when an adult is nearby and using the poisonous product. Often it's a product used to clean the house.

Imagine you're polishing your coffee table. You turn away briefly to answer the phone, leaving an open bottle of polish. In seconds, your daughter could take a sip.

Over-the-counter and prescription drugs, as well as nutritional supplements, are also common sources of poisoning. Again, the poison is in a container, and the child explores the container with his or her mouth.

Children also like to imitate adults by using products they use, often in dangerous ways. Liquor is a potential poison if anyone, young or old, takes too much. And it's much easier for a young child to drink too much.

If you haven't done so already, install child-resistant locks on all cabinets and doors that hold chemicals and medications. When possible, keep dangerous substances up high and out of reach. Store household products and medicines in their original containers. The containers are usually labeled with first aid information, should you need it.

Identify any poisonous household or yard plants in or around your home and remove them. And teach your child not to eat leaves, berries, mushrooms or plants.

Post telephone numbers for both your doctor and the poison control center (800) 222-1222 next to every telephone in your house. Save them to your cellphone as well.

If (and only if) your doctor recommends it, keep activated charcoal or ipecac securely stored in your medicine cabinet. But NEVER use either one unless specifically told to by your doctor or the poison control center.

You can keep your daughter safe from poisoning; it just takes preparation and watchfulness.

• Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. Go to his website to send questions and get additional information: www.AskDoctorK.com.

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