5 Commonly Ingested Poisons in Your Home and How to Treat Them

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According to the National Capital Poison Center, one human poison exposure is reported approximately every 15 seconds in the United States, adding up to more than two million human poison exposures annually. Out of those, 39% were children under the age of six.1

This number of poisonings isn’t surprising, as many homes contain everyday products that are potentially toxic. And when these substances aren’t stored properly, accidental poisonings can occur.

We want to make you aware of these substances and the preventative measures you can take to reduce the risk of accidental poisoning in your home. Our list includes some of the most common household poisons, but there are dozens of everyday products that can be toxic to your family and pets.

If you ever suspect human poisoning, immediately call the Poison Control help hotline at 1-800-222-1222. You can reach Pet Poison Control at 1-888-426-4435.

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Remember Carbon Monoxide Detectors

We recommend installing carbon monoxide detectors, like Google Nest Protect, as part of your overall home safety plan to prevent poisoning. (Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, and poisonous gas that claims over 400 lives a year.)10



Who Is at Risk of Accidental Poisoning?

Everyone is at risk of accidental poisoning, but some age groups experience greater incidents of poisoning than others.

Children younger than six years old account for 39% of all poison exposures. Adults account for 43% of unintentional poisonings, and 8% of victims are teens.1

Peak poisoning frequency occurs in children under two, but poisonings in adults and teens tend to be more serious.

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Securely store these, and all other potentially poisonous household products, to help poison-proof your home.

Use child-proof locks like Jambini's magentic cabinet locks to keep your kiddos (and pets) safe.

1. Medication

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Poisoning is the leading cause of injury death in the United States, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.2 Poisoning from opioid pain medications like hydrocodone and oxycodone caused more than 68,000 deaths in 2020.11

Over-the-counter pain medication like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be poisonous, too. Ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin are some of the most common NSAIDs.

Prevention: Keep all medication out of the reach of children and anyone else who may accidentally ingest it. Install high-quality baby-proofing cabinet locks on any cabinet that contains medication. Get a lockable medicine cabinet like AdirMed's dual-lock cabinet, or a medicine lockbox. Keep medication in its original container, always take medicine according to instructions, and never use someone else’s prescription medication. Download a medicine manager app like Medisafe to help remind you how much to take and when to take it.

Symptoms: Symptoms of prescription painkiller overdose range from confusion, mood swings, and nausea to breathing problems that can result in death.3 There are many NSAID overdose symptoms, including abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and blurred vision. Large amounts of NSAIDs may result in kidney damage, seizures, or coma.4

Treatment: Call the Poison Control number above or seek emergency care immediately. If possible, provide medical personnel with the victim’s age, weight, and condition, as well as the name of the medication, time it was swallowed, and amount consumed.

2. Household cleaners

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It’s not uncommon for cleaning products to contain a range of hazardous chemicals. For example, many toilet bowl cleaners and tub and tile cleaners contain hydrochloric acid, while sodium hydroxide (lye) can be found in drain cleaners and oven cleaners. Often, these products aren’t handled and stored appropriately, which leads to them being one of the top causes of accidental poisoning in children. Inhaling certain cleaning products can also result in poisoning.

Prevention: Always use household cleaning products according to directions and put them away immediately after use. Store products where they can’t be accessed by children or pets—like on the top shelf of the pantry—then install a Wappa Door Knob Lock or similar device to help secure the pantry door. For added safety, switch to natural cleaning products that are non-toxic, such as Biokleen Spray and Wipe All-Purpose Cleaner.

Symptoms: Poisoning symptoms vary depending on what cleaning product was ingested. For example, swallowing toilet bowl cleaner can cause burns in the esophagus, difficulty breathing, and loss of vision.5 Symptoms of drain cleaner poisoning include burns in the mouth, difficulty breathing, vomiting, and severe stomach pain.6

Treatment: If the victim swallowed either of these cleaning products, have them drink water or milk immediately—unless they’re having difficulty swallowing. Then call the Poison Control number or seek medical treatment right away.

3. Topical anesthetics

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Topical anesthetics contain numbing ingredients to help reduce discomfort from things like sunburn, sore muscles, and insect bites. When applied according to package instructions, topical anesthetics are usually safe. But using more than the recommended amount or ingesting even a small amount of topical anesthetic can lead to poisoning.

Prevention: Make sure you have a comprehensive first aid kit, like Surviveware's water resistant first aid kit, readily accessible at home. Treat topical anesthetics just like prescription medication or any other over-the-counter medicine. Store your first aid kits in a safe place, follow label instructions carefully, and put them back immediately after use. Also, never apply teething gel to children younger than two years of age. Instead, massage their gums or use teething rings to help ease pain.

Symptoms: Poisoning symptoms may include labored breathing, slow heartbeat, drowsiness, and seizures. Benzocaine is an ingredient often found in teething gels that can cause methemoglobinemia, a serious condition in which the amount of oxygen in the blood becomes dangerously low.7 Symptoms of methemoglobinemia include headache, fast heart rate, and bluish coloring of the skin or nails.

Treatment: If you suspect topical anesthetic poisoning, seek professional medical care immediately or call the Poison Control hotline.

4. Insecticides

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The purpose of insecticides is to kill bugs such as ants, roaches, and wasps—but the chemicals used to rid your home of these pests can also be dangerous to your family. Organophosphates and carbamates are two common insecticide types that are associated with serious poisonings. Insecticide poisoning can result from swallowing, inhaling, or absorbing through the skin.

Prevention: Store insecticides in their original containers, locked in a shed, out of sight and reach of children and pets. Use the least amount of insecticide possible and avoid using them in enclosed spaces. Switch to insecticides that use pyrethrins, as they are made from flowers and aren’t as poisonous to humans and pets.

Symptoms: Organophosphate and carbamate poisoning can cause a variety of symptoms, including blurred vision, salivation, and vomiting, as well as seizures.8 Additionally, these products can overstimulate organs and result in them shutting down.

Treatment: In cases of ingestion, do not have the victim throw up. Seek medical treatment right away. Medical professionals may use the drug atropine to treat serious insecticide poisonings. If the insecticide came in contact with the victim’s clothing or skin, they should remove their clothes and wash their body immediately.

 

5. Dishwasher and laundry detergent

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Swallowing liquid or granular dishwasher or laundry detergent can be dangerous, but detergent pods present a greater risk of serious poisoning.  From January 2012 to December 2017, 72,947 people were poisoned by liquid laundry detergent packets. Out of those affected, 91.7% were less than 6 years old.9

Prevention: Young children and pets can easily mistake brightly colored and pleasantly fragrant detergent pods for candy. So keep pods in their original container with the lid sealed and store them in a secure location. Better yet, avoid pods altogether and use a liquid or granular product, or try laundry detergent sheets, which look like dryer sheets but are laundry detergent.

Symptoms: Swallowing liquid or granular dishwasher or laundry detergent can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Ingesting a detergent pod can result in symptoms ranging from vomiting and drowsiness to aspiration and respiratory distress.

Treatment: Call the Poison Control hotline or seek other medical help immediately. Do not make the victim throw up unless a medical professional advises you to.


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Sources

  1. National Capital Poison Center, "Poison Statistics National Data 2020." Accessed July 13, 2022.
  2. National Safety Council, "Top 10 Preventable Injuries." Accessed July 13, 2022.
  3. American Addiction Centers, Symptoms of Opiate Overdose: Vicodin, OxyContin, and Morphine," July 12, 2022. Accessed July 13, 2022.
  4. National Library of Medicine, PubMed, Toxic Effects of Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs in Overdose," August 1990. Accessed July 13, 2022.
  5. Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Toilet Bowl Cleaners and Deodorizers Poisoning." Accessed July 13, 2022.
  6. Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, "Drain Opener Poisoning." Accessed July 13, 2022.
  7. FDA, "Risk of Serious and Potentially Fatal Blood Disorder Prompts FDA Action on Oral Over-the-Counter Benzocaine Products Used for Teething and Mouth Pain and Prescription Local Anesthetics," May 23, 2018. Accessed July 13, 2022.
  8. Merck Manual, "Organophosphate Poisoning and Carbamate Poisoning," June 2022. Accessed July 13, 2022.
  9. National Library of Medicine, "Safety Interventions and Liquid Laundry Detergent Packet Exposures," June 3, 2019. Accessed July 13, 2022.
  10.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Carbon Monoxide Poisoning (CO)," July 21, 2021. Accessed July 13, 2022.
  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Opioid Data Analysis and Resources," June 1, 2022. Accessed July 13, 2022.
Alexia Chianis
Written by
Alexia Chianis
Wanderlust junky and mom of two, Alexia is a former police officer and U.S. Army Captain who draws on her experiences to write about a myriad of safety topics.

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