Poison Prevention Tips for Grandparents: Milk is Not the Answer

This year for Poison Prevention Week (March 15 – 21, 2020), I want to focus on educating older adults about the prevention childhood poisonings, specifically those with grandchildren. My children are past the age of exploratory ingestions and their grandparents are no longer with us. But since poison prevention is a topic near and dear to my heart as a toxicologist (and a nearly 20-year veteran in the world of poison control), I wanted to share some poison prevention tips with the Grandma Mary’s and Pop-Pop Muller’s of the world.

Grandparents have an increasing caregiver role in the lives of their young grandchildren. There is a large time gap from when they had children in their house on a daily basis to the time when they have young children again in their home. There are many modern safety ideas that were not around when their children were young. It’s hard to keep up with young children and all the essential safety tips to know! Grandparents need safety information that is to-the-point, easy to implement, and easy to read, to keep their young grandchildren safe from dangers in the home. Please read on and share this post with your favorite grandparent…

Poisoning is a leading cause of injury in young children and almost a quarter of the time the substance involved is a grandparent’s medication. This is how grandma’s purse has the reputation as being one of the most dangerous things in the house. It often has candy inside and in the flurry of excitement when grandma comes to visit, the purse ends up within reach of little ones who want to explore what’s inside (and medicine can look just like candy!). Holiday weekends, family vacations, and visits from grandparents to help out with a new baby are especially risky times – everyone is excited and may be a bit distracted from their routine supervisory roles.

Children can get into medications at the grandparent’s house or as described above, during a visit in their own home. Two important areas to think about as a grandparent battling the chance of your grandchild ingesting something that may harm them: one, how to prevent your grandchild from being poisoned and two, what to do if you even suspect that your grandchild could be poisoned by eating something he shouldn’t have, chewing on something that may contain lead, receiving someone else’s medicine or too much of his own, breathing in fumes, or being bitten by a spider or snake. Just to provide some reassurance, most pediatric ingestions are of the non-toxic variety (that is, soap, shampoo, silica gel, dog food – choking hazards, serious toxins, not usually).

The first step in preventing a young child from finding something to put in their mouth that they shouldn’t is to get down on your hands and knees and view each room at your grandchild’s level. What is within reach? Don’t underestimate the ability of some young children to climb! I was taken by surprise when my young son, even before being able to walk, pushed a stool over to the toilet, climbed onto it, and then onto the toilet, to get something he wanted on the sink! While you’re down there, also look for things that can pose a choking risk (hint: if it can fit down a toilet paper tube, it’s a choking risk to children 3 and under).

Now that you’ve scanned your rooms for things to put out of your grandchild’s easy reach, the next step is to gather all of your medications. In our house, we had a large tool box (a tackle box works too) that had a hole for a luggage lock and we put it on a high shelf (remember the story about the climber? Up high is not enough. Lock it too.) Even though some medications may have “child resistant caps”, these caps can be effortlessly opened by many young children. Medication reminder boxes are handy and make remembering daily medications easier. But take these off the nightstand and kitchen table and lock those up in the box too. Cabinet locks, door knob covers, gates, and similar are typical in homes where children live there full-time. But perhaps not practical for the grandparent’s home. One final poison prevention tip here: install a carbon monoxide detector on each floor of your home.

There is no guarantee that even with judicious child-proofing will you prevent a poisoning in the home. It only takes a second for a young child to get into trouble. (Remember the toilet-climbing incident? I was giving my other child a bath while this was happening at lightning speed behind me!) So here’s what you need (and it’s not to give the child a glass of milk or anything else): the National Poison Control Center number at your fingertips so you can obtain guidance on what to do 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from the nurses and pharmacists who staff this invaluable hotline. Put the number in your phone: 800-222-1222. This number routes you to the closest poison control center to your calling number. Of course, call 911 if the child is having difficulty breathing or is otherwise in distress. When you call, have your grandchild and the medicine/product next to you. It wouldn’t be the first time that additional poisonings have occurred while the caller was on the phone with poison control and the child was unattended!

pediatric drug safety toxicology