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Medicine, cleaning supplies can kill young children

Most people consider the home a safe place for children, but it can be dangerous when it comes to accidental poisoning.

Thousands of Florida youngsters under age 6 are poisoned at home each year, with infants and toddlers being at the greatest risk.

Poison-proof your home by taking the following precautions recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics:

+ Lock up medicines. Keep all medicines and potentially dangerous household substances out of a child's reach. Use child-protection safety latches. Do not store possible poisons in food containers or near food. Do not rely only on close supervision; many poisonings occur even when a child is within the reach of parents or caregivers.

+ Use original containers. Leave the original labels on all products. Labels include information for poison control centers in case of emergency and usually contain child safety precautions.

+ Use child-resistant packaging. Credited with saving at least 700 children's lives since its introduction in 1970, child-resistant packaging often is used improperly. Always replace caps securely. Adult-friendly packaging now makes it easier for arthritic hands or frustrated adults to protect children without being inconvenienced themselves. But remember, a child-resistant container is not childproof. It will not stop children from opening a container, only slow them down!

+ Dispose of outdated medicines. Clean out medicine cabinets periodically and safely dispose of unneeded medicines. Pour contents down the drain or toilet, and rinse the container before throwing it away. Discard substances used for old-fashioned treatments, such as oil of wintergreen, boric acid, ammoniated mercury, oil of turpentine and camphorated oil.

+ Do not be distracted. If the phone or door bell rings while you are administering medicine or using a potentially poisonous product, secure the product by replacing its cap, put it back in the cupboard or take the child with you while dealing with the distraction. Do not leave medicines or household chemicals on kitchen counters or bathroom surfaces where young children can find them.

+ Plan. Post the poison control center phone number, (800) 282-3171, with other emergency numbers by every phone. Keep on hand a bottle of ipecac syrup (a liquid used to induce vomiting in some cases of poisoning). Then you can be prepared if the poison control center advises that a child receive such medication.

+ Set a good example. Do not take medicines in front of children. Youngsters frequently mimic the behavior of their parents. Children who watch their parents take pills may want to do it, too _ with potentially fatal results. Do not drink from containers, such as cough syrup bottles. Never call medicine "candy," and do not make a game out of taking medication.

+ Away from home. Some 23 percent of poisonings involve prescription drugs belonging to someone the child does not live with, most often grandparents. Thirteen percent of all child poisonings occur in homes other than the child's.

The signs of potential poisoning are frightening _ vomiting, appearing sluggish or drowsy, a substance or burns showing around the mouth or a smell on the child's breath. If a parent suspects that their child may have swallowed a poison, a plan of attack will help:

+ Remain calm.

+ Look into the child's mouth and remove any remaining pills, pieces of plant, etc.

+ Bring the child and the poison or container to the phone. Do not give the child anything by mouth until you call the poison control center.

+ Call the poison control center and be prepared to give the child's age, weight, the product name, the time of the ingestion, the amount swallowed and the progression of symptoms.

+ Follow the specific instructions of the poison control center.

+ What are the most common medications kids accidentally ingest?

+ Cough and cold preparations, such as Pediacare, Triaminic, Robitussin.

+ Acetaminophen (non-aspirin pain relievers such as Tylenol).

+ Antibiotics.

+ Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain relievers (Ibuprofen, etc.)

+ Antacids.

+ Multivitamins with iron, prenatal vitamins, fluoride.

+ Diaper products _ powders, lotions, ointments.

+ Antihistamines and other medication used to control allergies.

+ Cardiovascular drugs (heart medications, high blood pressure medication).

+ Electrolytes (diuretics).

Bruce A. Epstein has practiced pediatrics in St. Petersburg since 1973. He is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics.