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Unexpected Poisons in the Home

Unexpected Poisons in the Home

Written by SMH Emergency Care Clinical Pharmacist Jeremy Lund

You probably already know to safely store household cleaning products, cosmetics, medications, insecticides and painting supplies so that young loved ones and visitors aren’t accidentally exposed to the poisons. But what about anti-freeze, batteries or e-cigarette liquid? Poisons can be everywhere, even places we might not think about!

Let’s take a look at some unexpected poisons found in the home — items that can be especially dangerous for younger children. 

1. Multivitamins – While vitamins that do not contain iron can be dangerous, those with iron are considered especially dangerous. Experts consider iron as one of the most fatal ingestions for children! Doses as low as 20 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) can cause gastric upset, and severe toxicity can be seen at 40 to 60 mg/kg. 

2. Hand Sanitizer – These days, most of us keep bottles of hand sanitizer at the ready. Remember that when ingested, hand sanitizer can cause poisoning in children, so it should be stored out of their reach — especially large bottles or those with a pump.

Children who only “taste” hand sanitizer experience mild symptoms or none at all; the terrible taste and the burning sensation it can cause aren’t very appealing, so kids aren’t likely to swallow enough to result in harm. However, in cases where larger amounts are consumed, alcohol poisoning can result. For example, the average 33-pound toddler would need to drink 4 to 5 squirts (at 2.5 mL each) of hand sanitizer (with 60% alcohol or more) to produce a toxic blood-alcohol level requiring medical attention, according to the Poison Center Network.

Always monitor young kids’ hand sanitizer use and be sure hands wet with sanitizer are not put in the mouth. In the event sanitizer is ingested (or splashed in eyes), contact your local poison control center (800-222-1222) for guidance.

3. Button Batteries – These small, button-shaped batteries are often used in watches, clocks, hearing aids, key fobs, remote controls, small toys and other items. Roughly the size of a nickel, they can easily fit into a toddler’s mouth, and if ingested, they are very dangerous. Once swallowed, the battery travels to the moist areas of the gastrointestinal system and begins to release an electrical current that can lead to internal burns. Serious internal burns can happen in as little as two hours! When treatment is delayed, surgery could be required or the ingestion could be fatal.
e-cigarette liquid4. E-cigarette Liquid — By now, most people are well aware of the short-term and long-term dangers of smoking cigarettes. We also know the dangers of secondhand smoke for children, but did you know that the tobacco products themselves — as well as tobacco replacements like nicotine lozenges, gum and patches — are also very harmful to kids? If ingested, they can cause nicotine toxicity. Be sure to keep any nicotine-containing products out of reach for kids. 

And while some manufacturers might tout vaping e-cigarettes as a “safer” alternative to smoking cigarettes, they can be much more hazardous to children. These popular devices use concentrated nicotine liquids that can contain up to 99 milligrams of nicotine per 1 milliliter. Ingesting even 0.5 milliliters of this concentrated liquid can kill a young child. To put it in perspective, that’s the equivalent of 1/10th of a teaspoon! It is critical that e-cigarette users keep all e-cigarette liquids away from children! 

5. Prescription Bottles — At Sarasota Memorial Hospital, we’ve seen several emergency-room cases where young children accidentally ingested prescription medication after being given the medication bottle to play with as a rattle. This is never a good idea! Even crafting a DIY child’s rattle using an empty medication bottle filled with beads or change is a bad idea: It tells the child that all medicine bottles are toys, not dangerous poisons. Remember that child-resistant prescription bottles are not child-proof! They are designed to keep the “average” toddler out of the bottle for 5 minutes. Have a smart toddler? They’ll get in faster. 

Infographic: Home Safety6. Toilet Bowl Cleaners — While this is a household chemical that everyone owns and likely keeps somewhere close to the bathroom, it’s not widely known what kind of chemicals are used in these products. The two chemical ingredients most often used in toilet cleaners, sodium hypochlorite and hydrochloric acid, are actually complete opposites of each other; one is a base, and the other an acid. People exposed to these chemicals topically or via ingestion should take the product with them to the ER, so medical staff knows which chemical exposures to treat.

7. Car Care Products — Two products commonly used for car care, antifreeze and windshield wiper fluid, are “toxic alcohols.” These products smell and taste sweet to a child, but as little as a teaspoon of either can lead to kidney failure, blindness or death, depending on which chemical is ingested. Ingestion of these products is a medical emergency for all, no matter the age. Don’t forget to poison-proof your garage too!

Poison Prevention Tips

  • Take steps this week to poison-proof your home. If your children are old enough, talk with them about the dangers of playing with chemicals.

  • Keep prescription and over-the-counter medications away from children. Store them at an unreachable height or in lock cabinets to prevent a potentially tragic accidental poisoning.

  • If you choose to smoke, be sure your supplies are hidden from children. The new, concentrated e-cigarette liquids are particularly toxic; store them in a locked cabinet or drawer, if possible.

  • Remember to poison-proof your bathroom and garage, too.

  • Call the local Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222, if an ingestion or exposure has occurred. This confidential service provides free medical advice, and calling them after an ingestion can save a life! 


Jeremy Lund, PharmD, MS, BCCCP, BCPSSarasota Memorial Emergency Care Clinical Pharmacist Jeremy Lund, PharmD, MS, BCCCP, BCPS, has treated numerous emergency cases of accidental poisonings and chemical exposures, including many in children. He shares his experiential knowledge here to help prevent them from happening in your home.


Posted: Mar 20, 2018,
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Author: Ann Key