When Kids Swallow What They Shouldn’t

By Alan L. Nager, M.D., M.H.A.

first aid for kidsDuring the holidays, many children get their hands on things they shouldn’t. When parents are distracted with cooking, eating, drinking and chatting, no one sees the 2-year-old wander into Grandma’s bedroom to find the candy dish of pills on the dresser.

This season, take preventive steps at home and in homes you are visiting. Keep medications and other dangerous substances in their original packaging (with child-proof caps if possible). Store these substances in a locked cabinet that is out of reach of children.

If you will be visiting the home of someone who uses a pill organizer, transfer the pills back to their original containers during your visit or make sure that the organizer is locked up out of your child’s reach.

Have the American Association of Poison Control Centers number (800-222-1222) stored in your phone and posted. Make sure everyone caring for your child knows it is there.

If you see the following signs in your child – whether or not you saw the child ingest anything – call 911:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Changes in behavior
  • Hyperactivity or lethargy
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Changes in color
  • Gagging

If you believe your child ingested something dangerous, seek help as soon as possible. Use your phone to take video of your child’s odd behavior, or photos of the plant your child was chewing on, the amount of liquid spilled on the floor or anything else that might be useful. Bring the bottle of pills or whatever you think your child ingested with you to the emergency department.

In the emergency department we can give medications to counteract symptoms and can often keep much of the substance from being absorbed into the bloodstream. But this is not always necessary, because not all ingestions are life-threatening. If your child has gotten into something but isn’t showing life-threatening symptoms, call the Poison Control Center for guidance.

Alan L. Nager, M.D., M.H.A., has been Director of Emergency and Transport Medicine at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles for the past 18 years, and is a professor of Pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California.

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