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What's the Problem?

Millions of people are exposed to poisons each year in the United States. In 2002, poison control centers reported more than 2.3million poison exposures, 1153 of which resulted in death. Nearly all poison exposures (more than 90%) happen in the home and involve common household items such as cleaning products, detergents, medicines, vitamins, cosmetics, and plants. Poisoning, such as carbon monoxide and lead poisoning, can occur as the result of environmental conditions. For more information, see the tip sheets on Carbon Monoxide Poisoning, Lead Poisoning in Children, and Lead Poisoning in Children Outside the United States.

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Who's at Risk?

Children, especially those under age six, are more likely to have unintentional poisonings than older children and adults. Adolescents are also at risk for poisonings, both intentional and unintentional. About half of all poisonings among teens are classified as suicide attempts. Children age one to five are more likely to have elevated blood lead levels if they are poor, are of non-Hispanic or African-American race, or live in older housing.

Can It Be Prevented?

Yes, poisonings can be prevented, but many people are not aware of the poisonous substances in their homes. Many poisonings can be prevented if all potentially toxic substances (e.g., medicines, cleaning products, pesticides, and automotive chemicals) are stored in child-resistant containers and locked out of children's reach. It only takes seconds for a poisoning to happen. Supervision is extremely important - particularly when children are visiting friends or family who may not have child-safe homes.

The Bottom Line

If a poisoning occurs, people are encouraged to do the following:

  • Remain calm
  • Call 911 if the victim has collapsed or is not breathing
  • Call 1-800-222-1222 if someone has been exposed to a poison and is alert

Gather the following information:

  • The poisoned person's age and estimated weight
  • The container or bottle of the poisonous product
  • The time that the poison exposure occurred

Case Example

A young mother is at home alone with her 10-month-old baby. She hears the phone ring and starts talking to her friend. Aware that her baby is crawling on the kitchen floor, she has her in sight. The baby sits up on the floor and starts to open kitchen cabinets within reach. The baby opens the cupboard below the sink and explores what is inside. The mother sits down on the couch to get comfortable while talking on the phone and forgets that her baby is in the kitchen unattended. The child grabs a bottle of floor cleaner and tries to pull off the cap. The cap was not properly secured and comes loose when the baby turns it. Innocently enough, the baby pours the liquid on the floor, proceeds to pick up the bottle and drinks the remaining liquid. Once off the phone, the mother returns to the kitchen to find her daughter sitting with the liquid on her face. The mother screams in horror and picks up her baby. She realizes what has happened and immediately goes to the phone. She remembers that she had placed a sticker on her phone with the national toll-free poison control number, which she was given at her local health department. She is connected with a pharmacist who is a poison control expert; he instructs the mother on appropriate initial first aid steps.

  • Page last reviewed: February 22, 2011
  • Page last updated: February 22, 2011
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