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posted: 9/1/2014 1:01 AM

Be aware of poisons in your house, take steps to keep them away from young children

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  • Children learn about medication safety from an Illinois Poison Center display. Call the free hotline at (800) 222-1222 if you are concerned about a possible poisoning.

    Children learn about medication safety from an Illinois Poison Center display. Call the free hotline at (800) 222-1222 if you are concerned about a possible poisoning.
    courtesy of the Illinois Poison Center

  • Experts give poison identification and prevention tips at an Illinois Poison Center presentation held last year.

    Experts give poison identification and prevention tips at an Illinois Poison Center presentation held last year.
    courtesy of the Illinois Poison Center


"What is poison and what does it taste like?" asked a young patron at Grayslake Library.

Write down this number and place it next to the phone: 1-800-222-1222.

It's the Illinois Poison Center 24-hour hotline. If in doubt, call the experts. Quick reference is available on the Poison Center website

"There are so many poisons," said Dr. Susan Fuchs, pediatric emergency physician at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago and professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University. "A lot of things in your home are poisonous."

Fuchs defines poison as something you are not supposed to eat, drink or inhale because it will cause serious problems. There also are poisons that can make your skin or eyes raw or red, and times when too much of an ingredient creates a dangerous mix, such as an over-the-counter medicine or even a prescribed medication.

The most common poisons for young children are cosmetics, personal care products, analgesics and household cleaning substances. Adults most often have poisonous reactions to sedatives, hypnotics and antipsychotics.

Late last year, experts at the 1-800-222-1222 poison help line noticed an uptick in teen cough and cold medicine poisoning. In one week's time, 10 teens were rushed to Lurie Children's Hospital's emergency room.

Dr. Carol DesLauriers, Illinois Poison Center operations director, considers this surge in medication abuse extremely serious.

"This trend is further evidence of the crippling prescription and over-the-counter medication abuse epidemic in Illinois," she said.

The Illinois Poison Center, the country's oldest poison information center, responds to 90,000 calls each year and was almost closed this summer when the State Appropriations Committee nearly eliminated funding. An extension in June put the center in business through 2018.

Baby-proofing any home is very important. Before grandkids visit, make sure the cleaning solutions and medications are out of reach. These potentially harmful items should be locked away at any caregivers' home and at day care centers.

The garage can be a dangerous place and children should not be left there unsupervised. Poisonous chemicals, such as windshield washer fluid or motor oil, actually taste sweet so victims have no idea they are harming themselves if they ingest these products.

Carbon monoxide, which can be in the garage or home, is dangerous to everyone. Fuchs supports the use of commercially available fire and smoke detectors. "Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can seriously harm or even kill you, so a detector is very important. Obviously, fire detectors will help if there is a fire," she said. Make sure there are working batteries in the detectors.

Prescribed treatment for a possible poisoning is constantly being updated; find current information about poisons and remedies on the Poison Center website. "We don't use ipecac anymore, so contact the poison center if you think poison was swallowed or eaten," Fuchs cautioned.

Free educational materials about poisons, including skull-and-crossbones stickers, are available through the Illinois Poison Center, which also offers games for kids that reinforce poison control measures, and an online Poison Prevention Education course that tests poison awareness.

"Children are curious," Fuchs explained. "They experiment with things like lamp oil, commonly used in the summertime. It smells sweet and is colorful, but if you swallow even a mouthful, then vomit or cough, it can get into your lungs. It's not tasty, but it can cause serious damage."

There are many poisonous plants outdoors that affect almost everyone. Poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac and nettles are found nearly everywhere. Learn how to identify poisonous plants online or in the Boy Scouts of America Field Book. Indoor plants can cause rashes and reactions, too.

When caregivers call the Poison Center, they may be directed to go to the emergency room. "Sometimes patients are observed," Fuchs said, "and sometimes there are procedures that can treat poisoning."

Old, outdated medicine can be attractive to young children who may confuse it for candy. "Medicines are a very big problem," Fuchs said. "Antipsychotic, anti-anxiety, heart and diabetes medicines are a problem."

Dispose of pills and all medicines properly, Fuchs said. Don't flush them down the toilet or throw them in the garbage -- it's harmful to the environment. The Illinois Poison Center website includes a map of locations throughout the state where you can properly dispose of medication.

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