The sad truth is that the home is the riskiest place for young Israeli children to be when it comes to accidental poisonings. Fully 94% of child poisonings occur where they live.
A conference held recently at Haifa’s Rambam Health Care Campus – which permanently hosts the Health Ministry’s National Poison Information Center – was attended by experts from Israel and abroad.
Home is still the riskiest place
A total of 18,136 cases of poisoning and exposure to other harmful substances in children up to the age of six were reported to the national center in 2021. This figure represents 44% of its referrals in the past year out of a total of 41,400 consultations last year.
The main causes of accidental poisoning at young ages involved the consumption of medications (55% of all cases) and a similar figure (44%) due to exposure to chemicals, especially household cleaners. Of the referrals that reached the national center, 213 involved children who suffered moderate to severe harm at the time of counseling.
As part of the study, questionnaires were presented to the parents of children under the age of six, with an emphasis on cleaning products and medicines and drugs from aspirin to their parents’ and their visiting grandparents’ pills. Interim results showed that 13% of respondents store medications meant for children in a low and accessible location, and in 32% of cases in a refrigerator that is also accessible to many children. When asked about storing adult medicines, it was found that 14% store keep them in a low and accessible location, while 27% of respondents keep them in the refrigerator.
Beware - household cleaning materials
More worrisome data were found in a survey regarding household cleaning materials, including bleach, detergents, degreasers, solid and liquid toilet cleaners: 41% of respondents answered that they store bleach in a bottom cabinet and 54% of them do the same with degreaser products.
Additional poisonous substances at home include toiletries, garden chemicals, vaping liquids, deodorants, lipsticks and other make-up, nail polish remover, skin moisturizers and gels, mouthwash, perfume, hand sanitizer, aftershave, shampoos, conditioners, soaps and bodywash.
Items in the bedroom or family area that can poison include air fresheners, alcohol, bubble-blowing solution, cigarette butts, e-cigarette chemicals, essential oils, glues, incense, mothballs, paints and potpourri.
Only 32% of respondents install a safety lock on cabinets that hold cleaning materials. In addition, 18% transfer detergents from the original container to another, unmarked container. Only 17% of respondents had previously received instruction on safe storage from their tipat halav (well-baby) nurses or pediatricians, and of those who did not, about 70% were interested in it. Laundry detergents are poisonous, so they should always be kept in their original containers with the label on them and be closed tightly when not in use.
Always put cleaning products away and out of sight and reach of children and pets. It is best to store them in a high, locked cabinet. Do not store products on top of the washer and dryer or in storage drawers under laundry machines.
Read and follow all instructions on the product label. Know where the safety information is located on the label and what to do in case an injury occurs. Never combine laundry detergent with ammonia or other household cleaners, because some chemical mixtures may release irritating or dangerous fumes.
If a product container is empty, throw it away properly. Do not reuse detergent buckets or bottles for other uses. Clean up any spills immediately, and wash your hands and any items you use to pour or measure products. Close and lock the laundry room door when you are finished, so curious young children cannot get in. Pay special attention to spray bottles, as they are a common source of accidental poisoning.
Detergent in single-use packets that are sold for washing machines and dishwashers is very concentrated and toxic. They are labeled as dangerous to children, but many adult users don’t take special precautions. If even a small amount gets into a child’s mouth or eyes, it can cause serious breathing or gastric problems, eye irritation and even coma and death. As the packets are sold in bright red, green and other attractive colors, children can mistake them for candy or gummy treats. Biting a packet can cause it to burst, shooting detergent into the child’s mouth or eyes.
“These data are not simple,” said Dr. Yael Lurie, director of the national center, “as they explain the large number of cases we encounter of young children exposed to substances that could endanger their lives. But these dangers can be prevented by thinking ahead and regularly surveying the home for them.”
Following these data, the center decided to set up a pilot program for providing information and useful tools to new parents before they take their baby home from hospital. The nurse in the neonatal ward will instruct the parents about safe behavior, and we will soon hand out a magnet for the refrigerator with 10 simple safety rules for parents. In the future, we are preparing to reach tipat halav centers, caregivers and the early-childhood educational system with vital information.”
Exploring with mouths and hands
Orly Silbinger, executive director of Beterem (Safe Kids Israel), added that “toddlers are at increased risk for poisoning because they tend to explore the world with their mouths and hands; they taste and touch anything that arouses their curiosity. Their bodies are small and their body systems are still sensitive, so even a little toxic substance can cause more severe damage than in adults.
The Israel Poison Information Center is the only service of its kind in the country that provides expert advice on poisonings to the healthcare system and the general public. A telephone hotline is available 24/7 for inquiries related to poisonings (clinical toxicology); drug information (clinical pharmacology) and the effects of drugs; chemicals, and other poisons during pregnancy and lactation (reproductive toxicology). The annual number of calls exceeds 30,000.
The Israel Poison Information Center is also academically oriented, providing lectures to medical students, residents, nurses and pharmacists. In addition, the poison center is involved in research of poisonings and has an ongoing collaboration with healthcare facilities, universities and international professional organizations.
Telephone number for acute poisoning (hotline): 04-7771900 (24/7)
For drug information and consultations pertaining to exposure of pregnant or breastfeeding women to drugs, chemicals and other poisons, it can be contacted Sundays through Thursdays between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.