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Top 3 Reasons People Call Poison Control

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Top 3 Reasons People Call Poison Control

Mar 17, 2014

All the chemicals are out of the children’s reach and your pills secured in a locked medicine cabinet. You think you’ve poison-proofed the house, but there’s still something you may have overlooked. Marty Malheiro from the Utah Poison Control Center tells you the top three reasons people call poison control, and the number one reason might surprise you.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: The top three reasons people might call Poison Control, and number one may surprise you. That's next on The Scope.

Man: Medical news and research from University of Utah physicians and specialists you can use for a happier and healthier life. You're listening to The Scope.

Interviewer: There are a lot of reasons people might call Poison Control. Today we're going to talk about the top three. We're visiting with Marty Malheiro who's the outreach coordinator at the Utah Poison Control Center. Let's start with number three. What's number three?

Marty Malheiro: Well, I'd like to focus on kids under six right now, because 60% of our calls are about children less than six.

Interviewer: Wow, 60%.

Marty Malheiro: Sixty percent. If you'll look at number three, it's analgesics, which is another term for pain relievers, and that includes over the counter as well as prescription medicines.

Interviewer: How are kids getting these out of the bottles? I mean they've got these fancy lids on them now that kids aren't supposed to be able to break into.

Marty Malheiro: There are a couple of things going on here. Adults hate those child resistant closures, so they don't put it on tightly, so it's easy to get into. The other thing, the Poison Prevention Packaging Act actually says that for a closure to be considered child resistant only 80% of five year olds aren't supposed to be able to get in it after five minutes. They already know that a certain percentage are going to be able to get into these.

Interviewer: If you have one of those that are in the 20% you want to definitely keep them . . .

Marty Malheiro: Keep them locked up.

Interviewer: Moving on to number two, what would be the second most common call that you receive in the Poison Control Center for kids under six?

Marty Malheiro: Our household cleaners rank up their pretty high. That's probably no surprise to the public. In that category it's the dishwashing detergent. It seems like what, but this happens when the adult caregiver gets distracted. You're filling your dishwasher and you put the granules in it, and then the doorbell rings, or another kid starts screaming, or the phone rings. You walk away, and that little cup of detergent looks just like a candy, like Nerds or something, and that little toddler's over there scooping it up and eating it.

Interviewer: How does this taste to a kid? Don't they just put it on their tongue and immediately want to spit it out?

Marty Malheiro: You would think that because you're an adult and you have a discerning palate, but little kids will absolutely eat anything. It's their natural curiosity that tells them that they want to learn about their environment, so they've got to check this out. We call them oral explorers. They put everything in their mouth.

Interviewer: What would be another type of household cleaner that kids might get into?

Marty Malheiro: The number two in that category is bleach. People tend to transfer bleach to another type of container to make it easier to use. The big jugs are too hard, so they pour it into a measuring cup, or they pour it into some other kind of measuring device to use it. Again, then what happens is they walk away, leave it on the counter, leave it on the washer, whatever, and the toddler comes along and thinks I'm going to try out this little beverage here.

Interviewer: A lot of cleaners come in spray bottles. Are spray bottles dangerous for kids, or does it kind of measure it out so they can't get as much?

Marty Malheiro: A spray bottle is the number one mechanism for kid poisonings. That's because they get mixed messages from adults. We will give them a spray bottle in the summer to have a water fight or to cool themselves off or something like that. For a small child, they don't know that that Windex cleaner or that floor cleaner is any different than the spray bottle that they're given in the summer to play with.

Interviewer: Moving on to number one, I'm actually a little bit surprised that these medications or household cleaners, one of those isn't number one. What's the number one type of call you get for kids under six?

Marty Malheiro: It is kind of a surprise. The number one category are cosmetics and personal care items. This makes total sense if you really think about it. The majority of people realize that medicines or cleaners can be poisonous to kids, and they're more careful. They do have child resistant latches or something. They put them up high. They're a little more careful.
But, they forget that there are all kinds of products in their home, typically in the bathroom but maybe the bedroom. There's toothpaste. There's lotion. There's mouthwash. There's deodorant. There are perfumes and shampoos. All of these things have gorgeous labels on them. They're pretty colors. Nail polish remover looks like lemonade. These are very attractive to a small child, and no one locks them up. They're out there free.

Interviewer: What are the most common ones that kids get into?

Marty Malheiro: The number one in this category would be your fluoride toothpaste. I don't want anyone to be scared about swallowing a little bit of toothpaste when your kids are brushing their teeth. What happens is they flavor these so deliciously now, bubblegum is one of the big ones. When the kids aren't brushing their teeth, and their adults are not watching them maybe so carefully, they'll eat the entire tube. That's when it becomes really problematic. That's the number one to be concerned about, and realize that that needs to be put up and out of reach. Don't leave it on the counter all the time.
Then, number two is another kind of yucky surprise. It's lotion. Those products are really labeled now with foods on them. You might see a picture of an apple, or an orange, or a pineapple, things like that on lotion. For a small child that's a cue that this is a food product to them.

Interviewer: I've heard that deodorant is actually a common reason that parents might call the Poison Control Center. Why is that?

Marty Malheiro: Deodorant is actually out on the counter. Yes, it is, it's number four in the cosmetic category. It's very common. They smell sweet. They have a nice smell to them. They look creamy or glossy, so it's an attractive product for a small child. It also kind of mimics a glue stick. Little kids are given glue sticks to play with. Again, they're getting the message that this is something that I can try out and taste.

Interviewer: At what degree of exposure might a parent be concerned about their kid being poisoned by these things? When should a parent call the Poison Control line?

Marty Malheiro: We want parents not even to think twice about should I be concerned or should I go to the Internet. We want them to call no matter what. Why guess? Why worry about it? Just call. It's a free call. It's confidential. We would rather tell you in the call that, you know what, this is a small amount, you don't need to worry, than to have you call us an hour later and we're going oh dear, this has been a while, it's going to be more of a problem. We want the parents to call immediately.

Interviewer: Marty, what is the number?

Marty Malheiro: The number is 1-800-222-1222. That number is for any poison center across the United States, so no matter where you call from you're connected to a local poison center. If you program that into your phone it's good no matter where you are in the United States.

Man: We're your daily dose of science, conversation, medicine. This is The Scope, University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.