Poison Proofing Your Home

Poison Proofing Your Home Introduction

Each year, millions of people are accidentally poisoned. The cause of poisonings often varies according to the age of the victim. Children younger than 6 years of age, for example, are at a greater risk of swallowing household cleaners and other products because they are curious and like to put substances in their mouths. Older adults taking several medications may become forgetful and mistakenly take too much of a medication or the wrong kind of medication.

A poison is any substance that is injurious to health or life. Many ordinary substances found in the home can cause an unintentional poisoning. People can help to protect themselves and their family members by following simple steps to make the home safe from poisons.

Reasons for Poison Proofing Your Home

Individuals can be exposed to poisons in many ways. Possible poisons can come from various products around the home and are usually found in the following four forms:

  • Solids: pills, vitamins, plants, powders, fertilizers, pellets, and mothballs
  • Liquids: medicines, lotions, soaps, furniture polish, lighter fluid, and household cleaners
  • Sprays: insecticides sprays and spray paints
  • Invisible vapors: car exhaust fumes, gasoline fumes, carbon monoxide, and paint stripper

Some of the most dangerous poisons found in the home are common, otherwise safe, everyday products. Some examples of these products include the following:

  • Medicines or vitamins that include iron (and may cause iron poisoning)
  • Cleaning products (for example, drain openers, oven cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, and bleach)
  • Antifreeze
  • Pesticides
  • Cosmetics (for example, nail polish remover, hair dyes, and hair sprays)
  • Hydrocarbons (for example, furniture polish, lamp oil, and lighter fluids)
  • Plants (for example, mushrooms and some common household plants, flowers, and shrubs in the yard)

Protect Yourself from Household Chemicals

The following tips can help to prevent accidental poisoning from household chemicals:

  • Keep products in their original containers with the labels in place. Often, the label can provide important information about the product and what to do in case of poisoning.
  • Store foods separately from household chemicals. Containers often look similar, making it easy for both children and adults to make mistakes. If possible, store cleaning products outside the kitchen.
  • Do not mix different products. Mixing products can create poisonous gases.
  • Store household chemicals out of reach of small children. Use safety locks on cabinets and avoid storing potentially dangerous products in cabinets close to the floor or ground.
  • Watch children closely when using cleaning products. Most poisonings occur while the cleaning product is being used. Return all cleaning products to their original storage location immediately after use.
  • Wear appropriate protective clothing when using spray products and pesticides. Protective clothing can include long sleeves, pants, gloves, socks, and shoes.
  • Avoid areas where pesticides have recently been sprayed. Pesticides are absorbed easily through the skin and can be poisonous.
  • Discard old or outdated products that could represent a poisoning hazard.

Protect Yourself from Poisoning Due to Medications

  • Keep medications in their original containers to prevent the wrong medication being taken by mistake.
  • Make sure medications are kept in child-resistant containers. Keep medications out of the reach of children. Remember that the term child-resistant does not necessarily mean childproof.
  • Avoid taking medications in front of small children. Small children may want to imitate your actions and take the same medication.
  • Do not tell children that medicine is candy.
  • Read and follow the instructions and warnings on all medications.
  • Talk to a doctor or pharmacist about all medications, vitamins, herbal products, and supplements you are taking. Some dangerous interactions may occur among different medications, vitamins, or herbal supplements.
  • Avoid mixing medications with alcohol because of possible dangerous interactions.
  • Discard old and outdated medicines correctly by returning them to your pharmacy, doctor's office, or other location approved for disposal of expired or usused medication. Your pharmacist can give you further directions on the safe disposal of medications. Flushing medications down the toilet is not recommended since these may contaminate the water supply.

Protect Yourself from Poisoning Due to Plants

  • Know the names of the plants in and around the home or in the yard. If necessary, label plants to avoid confusion or as a reminder.
  • Keep poisonous plants out of reach of pets and children.
  • Teach children not to eat mushrooms, plants, and berries in the yard.
  • Avoid plants that have been sprayed with fertilizers or pesticides.

Special Tips for Homes with Very Young Children

  • Keep the telephone number of the local poison control center close and readily accessible (on the refrigerator or near the telephone). The telephone number for the local poison control center can be found in the telephone book or online at the American Association of Poison Control Centers. The National Poison Control Center phone number in the U.S. is 1-800-222-1222.
  • Keep shampoos, conditioners, mouthwash, and soaps that are in the bathroom out of the reach of children. Bathroom products are often colorful and scented, making children tempted to taste a product that can be dangerous if swallowed.
  • Be aware that the deodorant disk used in many diaper pails can be very poisonous if ingested. If a diaper pail is used in the home, the lid should fit tightly to prevent accidental ingestion of the disk.
  • Keep electrical appliances unplugged and out of reach of children.
  • Do not leave a young child alone in order to answer the telephone or doorbell while using a potentially poisonous product. Unsupervised children are more likely to ingest a potentially poisonous product.
  • Teach children about poisonous substances and the dangers and consequences of ingesting poisonous substances.
  • Make sure medications are kept in child-resistant containers. Keep medications out of the reach of children. Remember that the term child-resistant does not necessarily mean childproof.

What to Do When a Poisoning Occurs

  • Stay calm.
  • Call the poison control center in your area. In the U.S., the National Poison Control Center is 1-800-222-1222. They will connect you to the poison control center closest to your location. Be ready to provide the following information:
    • The name of the product (and the product container) that was ingested
    • The amount of the product that was ingested
    • The time that the poisoning occurred
    • The age and weight of the person who was poisoned
    • Your name and telephone number
  • The poison control center will explain what to do next.
  • If told to go to the hospital’s emergency department, be sure to bring the product (or plant sample) in its original container. Health care practitioners are better able to administer the correct treatment when the exact cause of poisoning is known.

Treatment in the Emergency Department

  • Temperature, pulse, and blood pressure are taken by a health care practitioner.
  • If the poisoning is potentially dangerous, the patient is observed while attached to a monitor that tracks heart rate and blood pressure. An intravenous line may be administered to deliver fluids and medication if necessary, and blood tests may be performed.
  • It may be necessary for the patient to drink activated charcoal. Activated charcoal acts as a "super" absorber of many poisons. Once the poison is stuck to the charcoal in the intestine, the poison cannot get absorbed into the bloodstream. Activated charcoal has no taste, but the gritty texture sometimes causes the person to vomit. To be effective, activated charcoal needs to be given as soon as possible after the poisoning. It does not work with alcohol, caustics, lithium (Lithobid), or petroleum products. Do not give activated charcoal at home. Allow medical personnel to decide if this treatment is appropriate.
  • In rare cases, the stomach may be emptied to eliminate the poison. To empty the stomach, a tube is inserted through the patient's nose or mouth and into the stomach. Stomach contents can then be removed through the tube by suction (pumping the stomach).
  • Some products, especially cleaners, contain acids or lyes that can cause severe internal burns. If a health care practitioner is concerned that a product has caused internal burns, an endoscopy may be performed. Endoscopy consists of passing a small, lighted tube, which is actually a camera, through the patient's mouth and then into the throat, esophagus, and stomach to look for damage.
  • The patient may be admitted to the hospital for further observation.

What Is the Poison Control Center?

  • Poison control centers are staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Staff members can provide information about poison prevention and telephone stickers with the telephone number for the national poison control center. The National Poison Control Center phone number in the U.S. is 1-800-222-1222. They will connect you with the poison control center closest to your location.
  • Pharmacists and nurses can provide information and, if necessary, refer a person to a hospital.
  • Toxicologists (specialists in poison information) can provide information about a variety of poisonings, bites, stings, and drug interactions.

Emergency Treatment for Animal Bites

A person attacked by a land animal should attempt to identify the type of animal, the time of the injury, and the nature of the attack.

  • Animal bites can occur on any dive or wilderness trip. They may also occur in a backyard with domesticated pets or wild animals.
  • Unprovoked animal bites are particularly dangerous. The possibility of a cat, dog, or wild animal having rabies is high, especially in less-developed countries.
  • Bites from land animals often lead to severe infections. Puncture wounds are very dangerous because they inject bacteria deep into the tissues.
  • Bites to the hand, wrist, foot, or joint are very dangerous and require immediate medical attention.
  • Infection is a major concern with bites because a local wound infection may develop in as little as 24 hours.
Medically reviewed by John A. Daller, MD; American Board of Surgery with subspecialty certification in surgical critical care


"In the Home: American Association of Poison Control Centers"