Dr. Vatsala Bhaskar is a board-certified pediatrician on staff at CentraState Medical Center in Freehold, N.J., where she also maintains a private practice. She contributed this article to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
There are some experiences as a parent that you never forget, both good and bad. In addition to a career as a pediatrician, I would also consider myself a cautious mother when it comes to caring for my own son, who is now a young adult. When he was young, I read all the latest how-to books and "baby proofed" my home from top to bottom — locks, guards, fences, padding — the works.
When my son was about four-years-old, I recall fighting a miserable cold while completing my residency. While preparing dinner, I left my decongestant bottle on the counter to remind myself to take the pills. In the blink of an eye, my son grabbed the bottle, thought he hit the M&Ms candy jackpot, and popped five brown tablets into his mouth.
I heard him make an odd sound and turned to see him spitting out the medication. I immediately examined his mouth, tried to discern if he had swallowed any pills (no, thankfully) and carefully watched him for the remainder of the day, greatly relieved he did not present any signs of over-the-counter medication poisoning.
My son is now 21-years-old and I still remember that frightening incident like it was yesterday.
We parents are human — we're busy, we're tired and we make mistakes. Every week in my medical practice, I treat children who have come into contact with everyday household items and harmed themselves by ingesting something, spraying contaminants in their eyes or somehow injuring themselves with common things found in every household. As a result, the child's parents are horrified, the child is upset, ill or injured, and worry abounds. [Thousands of Kids Hospitalized Every Year After Ingesting Parents' Meds ]
Life isn't perfect and accidents happen.
If you are a grandparent or someone who occasionally hosts infants and young children in your home, you probably don't have (or need) all the childproofing armor in your home.
So what can parents, caregivers, friends and families do to keep little ones safe? The list below highlights some of the most perilous items to infants and young children — some more obvious than others. [To Keep Kids Safe, Explain, Explain, Explain ]
1. Cleaning products stored in secondary locations
This is the number one danger to kids. Parents often lock up these toxins when they are on the main floor of the house, but sometimes overlook cleaners stored elsewhere, such as second floor bathrooms or the garage. Even if children don't ingest these chemicals, they can burn delicate skin or get into the eyes — which can cause blindness, in the most serious cases.
2. Age appropriate toys and outdoor playground equipment
Young children like nothing more than the company of their big brothers and sisters. Some toys or game pieces which are fine for older children may contain small parts that are choking hazards in a younger child's hands. Continually monitor play areas, as well as the back seat of your car, to ensure no small items are within reach of infants and young children.
Children under the age of three are very likely to put objects in their mouths. If an object is small enough to fit inside a tube of toilet tissue, it is a choking danger to a child.
3. The contents of a handbag
Handbags and backpacks are treasure chests for kids. Many people leave them on the floor or slung over a chair. And more often than not, these items are left open. If you look inside your bag on any given day with the thought what items might harm a child, it's a frightening realization. (In my own bag, as an example, I discovered several sharp objects, hand sanitizer, an open package of mints and nail polish.)
4. Indoor houseplants and outdoor trees and flowers
Most houseplants and outdoor trees, shrubs and flowers are completely safe. A few bites of even "toxic" plants usually result in no more than a stomachache. Still, some plants can definitely be dangerous to children. A popular indoor plant, the caladium, popular for its large bright fuchsia and green leaves, is toxic to both children and pets.
To find out if plants and flowers in your home or on your property could be poisonous, check online at poison.org/prevent/plants.asp.
5. Laundry and dishwasher pods
Sadly, we all heard last year about the baby who died after ingesting a laundry pod . Several parents have mentioned this tragedy to me because these detergents are found in most homes and they look like candy or small toys to children.
In a single year, 17,230 children under the age of six have been accidentally poisoned by these packets. Several organizations have called for the Consumer Product Safety Commission to require manufacturers to design child-proof packaging for these pods.
Children who bite and ingest the detergent can immediately go into respiratory distress and vomit violently. If the eye comes into contact with the pods, exposure can cause severe irritation or even a temporary loss of vision.
If the worst happens, call for help immediately
Every child is born with an inquisitive mind and an adventurous streak, to be sure. In the real world, can we ever really child proof everything? Of course not. If we tried, our homes would resemble prisons. Most parents successfully protect their children against obvious dangers, but it's the secondary issues outlined here which can also help to keep children safe.
If the worst happens ─ and during the course of any child's life it usually does at least once ─ take action immediately and reach out for medical assistance. When it comes to our children, you can't be too cautious.
If you suspect a child in your care may have been poisoned or injured by a household item, call 911 or the Poison Control Help Center at 800-222-1222 for prompt professional guidance.
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