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Despite the many poison prevention programs started since the 1960s, accidental poisonings among infants and children continue to provide a substantial number of emergencies. A toddler's natural inquisitiveness and propensity for exploration and oral satisfaction guarantee this group to be at high risk. Young children may not tell the difference between poisonous and non-poisonous objects solely on visual clues. In addition, children often imitate adults, seeing them put medicines in their mouths. Kids ingest a variety of substances - often without anyone's knowledge of when, what or how much.

Most families are aware of the potential for accidental childhood poisonings, but children are in jeopardy when a home lacks supervision and a structured environment. Risk increases when families move or a child lives in a home not equipped with safety measures.While most ingestions are nontoxic, you should be prepared for possible poisonings. Always call your local poison control center for advice. First-aid mainstays for ingested poisons are removal of stomach contents through inducing vomiting with ipecac syrup and giving activated charcoal. Which one of these two treatments is recommended and used depends upon local preferences and situations. From my medical literature reading, while ipecac use is more popular, activated charcoal seems the most effective.

There are several important points to remember if you give ipecac. Since vomiting may not start immediately (it usually takes 20 minutes), any ingested toxins have time for absorption. Also, vomiting removes only one-third to two-thirds of the stomach contents. Thus, some of the swallowed material will be absorbed.

Ipecac is derived from certain plant roots found in South and Central America. It produces vomiting by two actions: It has a direct stomach-irritation effect; more importantly, it triggers the vomiting center in the brain's medulla. After taking ipecac, a victim should drink water to hasten its absorption.

Take any vomit to the hospital to be inspected by the hospital emergency department staff in identifying pill fragments and ingested quantity.

Ipecac is not to be used:

- if the swallowing occurred 30 to 60 minutes before;

- in infants less than 6 months old;

- if the ingested matter is a strong acid or alkali, as more damage to the esophagus could occur;

- if petroleum products are involved, as the risk of possible inhalation and later pneumonia is far greater than any of the poison's direct toxic effects;

- in a victim having seizures;

- in a victim who is unresponsive or drowsy;

- in a pregnant woman in her third trimester (last three months);

- or in a victim with a history of advanced heart disease.

By itself, activated charcoal is far superior to stomach emptying, and it is effective with a wide range of substances. First-aiders should use the pre-mixed form. Although activated charcoal is an inexpensive, safe and effective means for decreasing poison absorption, pharmacies do not routinely stock it. Activated charcoal is a black, tasteless, odorless, insoluble, inert powder that is the product of organic vegetable matter, usually wood pulp, burned at high temperatures and then exposed to steam and strong acids. A network of tiny pores on each particle increases the surface area enormously, which enables activated charcoal to bind many commonly ingested toxic materials. While activated charcoal may appear similar to burnt-toast scrapings and charcoal briquettes, these other items cannot be used for poisoning.

A recently published study from Illinois found that advice from hospital emergency departments on poisons proved to be less accurate and less consistent than information obtained from poison control centers.