The Curiosity of an Infant: Poison Dangers

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Medication Safety
Poison Safety & Prevention

A new study raises awareness of the dangers of unintentional exposure to poisons for babies 6 months and younger.

Traditionally, this has not been an age group that poison center educators have focused on, because infants aren’t up and walking about. But while a young baby may be less mobile, the data shows that babies are indeed finding their way to harmful objects.

It also stresses the need for added parental/caregiver caution when giving medications to this age group.

This study looked at calls made to all U.S. poison centers from January 2004 to December 2013 for babies 6 months and younger. Over the 10-year period reviewed in the study, poison centers across the U.S. received 262,552 calls related to unintentional exposures in this age group. The vast majority of these situations are not called in, so this is probably only a drop in the bucket.

Of that number, 50.7 percent, more than 133,000 calls, were made for what the researchers termed “exploratory” exposures. These are the things a baby gets hold of within his/her environment.

Poison center educators typically target these exploratory exposures, encouraging parents to put things up and make sure they are using child-resistant caps. Infants will grab anything that is near them.

One common unintentional exposure is to diaper-care products. A parent may set a tube of ointment down beside the baby while applying it. Babies love to pick things up, and the first place they put them is in their mouths.

Luckily, most of these products are fairly safe, but some other things, like certain plants, may not be.

When a parent puts a baby down on a blanket on the floor to play and roll about, they may not be thinking about plants, but some household plants, such as dieffenbachia or philodendron can be dangerous and cause problems including swelling and irritation.

While babies need to move and explore, parents and caregivers can remove some of the unexpected dangers by taking a quick survey of the area and removing anything that could be potentially harmful.

The second thing that surprised the investigators in this survey was the number of therapeutic (dosing) errors, which accounted for 36.7 percent, more than 96,000, of the unintentional exposures. These errors were divided into two areas — quantitative dosing errors (a different amount given than needed) and non-quantitative dosing errors (medications given twice, too soon, wrong medication and wrong route).

By taking a few simple steps parents/caregivers can prevent dosing errors like reducing distractions and checking and rechecking the medication bottle. Are you giving the correct dose, at the correct time? Is this medicine appropriate for a baby?  A strong example is the fact that Ibuprofen, a medication not normally recommended for young children, was the sixth most frequent cause of therapeutic errors.

If you have multiple caregivers, develop a log or have a system in place so that when a medication is given the next caregiver will know.   Sometimes folks will have multiple kids who are each on different meds. Again, minimize distractions. Look and look again.

Another way kids are getting exposed is through their siblings. Parents need to make sure that they are aware of what siblings are doing. An older child may find a pill, think it is candy and want to share it with the baby.

Alcohol and illicit drugs, such as amphetamines, methadone and cocaine, are two types of exposures noted in the study that can cause major effects on a baby.

The new study raises awareness about potential poisonings in infants 6 months and younger, a previously understudied group. We have to work harder at making sure both infants and toddlers can’t get to potentially poisonous items.  Another safeguard would be for parents to program the poison center’s phone number 1-800-222-1222 into their cellphones.

If you find yourself in any possible poisoning situation or you just have a poison related question, please do not hesitate to call 1-800-222-1222 for some free expert advice, 24 hours a day, seven days a week!