The Medical Minute: Poison Prevention Tips for Spring

When the days get longer and warmer, many find themselves with a desire to clean everything from the house and car to the garage and medicine cabinet. While that urge can be a good thing, it can also lead to accidental poisoning.

Most people know to keep household cleaners away from children and pets. What they may not think about is access to medicines – or how they can harm themselves and their family members by not taking proper precautions when using cleaning chemicals and pesticides.

“Most poisonings typically happen when the products are in use,” said Susan Rzucidlo, pediatric trauma and injury prevention program manager at Penn State Hershey.

If you suspect a poisoning has occurred, the best action to take in most cases is to call the Poison Help line, 1-800-222-1222, which will connect you to your local poison control center. The infographic below tells you more about what to do in the case of poison exposure.

Children who want to help clean may inadvertently harm themselves or others. “You know to point a spray nozzle away from you. They don’t,” she said. “So they may point it toward a brother or sister, or into their own face and eyes.”

Medicines are often stored in a bathroom or kitchen cabinet or bedside table – all places with easy access for children or teenagers. To a child, pills may look like candy. For teens, narcotics from the family medicine cabinet may not seem as dangerous or harmful as smoking weed or experimenting with other drugs.

But it’s not just children who are at risk for accidental poisoning.

While working in the garage, cleaning the car, or spraying pesticides in the yard to keep bugs at bay, adults should take precautions to avoid combining chemicals or allowing them to be inhaled or come into contact with skin.

“Read the labels and the instructions,” Rzucidlo said. “Also, keep poisons in the containers they came in.”

Not only should cleaners and chemicals be stored separately from food – they should never be stored in food containers such as cups or bottles. Such containers often don’t have childproof caps and their appearance can confuse. Should an accidental ingestion occur, not having quick access to a product label and chemical names can make it more difficult to get timely and appropriate care.

And while people often don’t think of medicines that help them feel better as being harmful, they often can be.

“If you take too much, it can be a poison to your body,” Rzucidlo said. Unused prescription medications or expired over-the-counter remedies should be disposed of properly. “There is a reason the manufacturer has that expiration date on it,” she said. “The drugs break down.”

To learn more about poison prevention and other children’s safety issues, visit the Safety Center inside the Family Resource Center on the first floor of the Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information on this educational resource, visit or call 717-531-SAFE (7233).

Medication safety tips

*Store medications in a high place that children cannot reach or see. Use locks on the cabinet if necessary.

*Put medications away after each use and make sure the safety caps are locked.

*Never tell a child that a pill is candy to get him or her to take it. Talk with your children about medicine safety.

Chemical safety tips

*Wear protective clothing. Remove and wash clothing after use. Stay away from areas that have been sprayed until the spray has dried or at least for one hour.

*Never mix household cleaners – doing so can create a poisonous gas.

*Turn on fans and open windows for ventilation when using household cleaners. Never sniff containers to see what is inside.

The Medical Minute is a weekly health news feature brought to you by Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Articles feature the expertise of Penn State Hershey faculty physicians and staff, and are designed to offer timely, relevant health information of interest to a broad audience.

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