Health & Fitness

Keeping Kids Fit: Do you know what can poison your child?

Wendy Stephan
Wendy Stephan Simon Hare

When parents think about poisoning, they usually think of chemicals. While the Florida Poison Control Center - Miami at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine/Jackson Memorial Hospital certainly sees cases of children getting into chemicals, they are actually not the most common cause of pediatric poisoning. In honor of National Poison Prevention Week, March 15-21, here is a quick tour of your home to identify all of the potential poison hazards that could hurt your kids.

Let’s start with the yard. If you have small children or pets, certain plants can be dangerous. Common species like oleander, angel’s trumpet and even wild mushrooms can cause serious symptoms if nibbled. Houseplants such as pothos or peace lily trigger painful burning of the lips and tongue. Are there caterpillars or spiders in the grass? Bites and stings bring pain, swelling and even allergic reactions. If you have a shed or outdoor storage area, make sure pool and lawn care chemicals are out of reach.

Open the front door and come inside. How do your guests secure their purses and coats? Visitors can unknowingly bring powerful medications in pockets or handbags into your home. A grandparent’s medication for blood pressure or blood sugar can be deadly with a single dose. Even products like eye drops or nasal sprays can be toxic if tasted.

The living room is safe, right? Not if someone has left cigarettes, e-cigarettes or liquid nicotine on the coffee table. Even cigarette butts have enough nicotine to be toxic. Calls to poison centers about exposure to nicotine products have exploded across the country in the last year. Nicotine can cause vomiting, seizures or even death in children. Since nicotine now comes in gums and candy-flavored liquids, parents also need to be on the lookout for these attractive and potentially dangerous products.

Now check the kitchen and laundry room. What’s that colorful and squishy packet on the countertop — a marshmallow, a piece of candy? No, it’s a colorful detergent pouch. Many cleaning and laundry products are now sold in single-use packs that are intriguing to little ones. And don’t let a child drink that purple dishwashing liquid. It is definitely not grape-flavored, from what we’ve been told.

A peek in the linen closet reveals cleaning products. Are you mixing cleaners to make a witch’s brew of toxic fumes? Read the labels and use products as directed. Many common cleaners can be irritating to the lungs and worsen asthma or bronchitis symptoms. What about the bathroom? Personal care products like shampoo and perfume are now the most common substances cited in calls to poison centers regarding small children. So, even if it smells nice and makes you look good, keep it out of reach of tiny hands.

A walk down the hall takes us to a dangerous place: the bedroom. Are you surprised? Poison control centers report more serious poisonings from medications than any other product. What’s on your bedside table? Do you see pain pills or cough syrup? These products can be safe and effective when used carefully, but when kids confuse them with candy or drinks they can easily turn deadly. Store all medicine up high and out of sight. If it’s expired, return it to a pharmacy where it can properly be discarded.

Speaking of disposal, do you keep old and no-longer-useful products around just in case? With small children in the home, it’s time to clean house. Your local solid waste department will likely have a program for these household chemicals. Safely removing these items from your home will prevent poisonings and environmental contamination.

Sometimes, in spite of our best efforts, children get into something they shouldn’t. Maybe it’s a finger-full of deodorant or a tablet that fell on the floor. Your local poison control center can help. Every day, Florida Poison Control Center - Miami handles about 250 calls via the 1-800-222-1222 Poison Helpline. Callers get quick, free, expert help for questions or emergencies. Fortunately, most of these calls can be managed safely at home by our highly trained doctors, nurses and pharmacists.

Don’t feel bad about calling. Poison information centers exist because homes are filled with dangerous things and children are curious. Program your cell phone with the 1-800-222-1222 Poison Helpline number, and know that we will be there to assist you, not just during National Poison Prevention Week, but year round. For more information on poison prevention, visit

Wendy Stephan is the Health Education Coordinator and Richard Weisman, Ph.D., is the Director of the Florida Poison Control Center – Miami, located at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine/Jackson Memorial Hospital. For more information, visit