Tales from the Poison Center: Cough syrup

During hectic commute, 2-year-old swallows mom’s cough medicine

Can I just say that I fully expect my son, Connor, to win the Nobel Peace Prize one day? He has been reading since he was 3 and, for a 6-year-old, we think he’s pretty mature. But last week, he proved that anyone young enough to be completely absorbed by two rubber dinosaurs at play (or war) — I’m not sure which — is too young to monitor a toddler. Even for a few minutes.

During our morning and evening commute, I usually ask him to help me keep an eye on his baby sister loaded into a car seat next to him. Last week that didn’t work out so well. While I answered a call from my boss and negotiated rush-hour traffic, Lauren pilfered a bottle of cough syrup from the tote bag I left sitting in the back seat. She may be a future Nobel Laureate herself. She is only 2, but she managed to remove the child-resistant cap and quietly emptied all but a teaspoon of the bottle, which was probably half full.

I may have been a little slow on the uptake because of the head cold I’m battling, so I didn’t notice that she was covered in green cough syrup until we were at a stoplight a few blocks from home.

I know. I deserve the Mom of the Year Award, right? After a brief meltdown, I remembered that our pediatrician gave me a magnet with the number for the Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center. I went straight home, found the number on my refrigerator and called. The nurse I spoke with told me this kind of thing happens all the time. She walked me through what to do over the phone.

Meanwhile, lesson learned. From now on, my tote bag, purse and even the diaper bag will not sit within reach of the car seat.

– Distracted in Downtown Louisville

What to do if your child swallows adult medication

Hey, no judgment here. “Ms. Distracted” isn’t a bad mom just because her daughter is clever enough to figure out a child-resistant cap. She’s like thousands of busy moms the Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center helps each year. No matter how careful you are, toddlers can move quickly when your back is turned.

What can parents and caregivers learn from this mom’s experience? Here are five helpful hints:

  • Don’t place too much confidence in a child-resistant package. There is no such thing as a child-proof container. Most child-resistant caps are designed to hinder children, but they can’t prevent a determined child from getting what he or she wants. Keep medications well out of reach whenever possible.
  • Don’t wait to call for help. One of the smartest things Ms. Distracted did was call poison control immediately. Some adult prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs can have serious consequences for children even when there are no symptoms. Something as common as cough syrup can cause mild or severe effects — from sleepiness and hyperactivity to hallucinations and seizures. The sooner you call for help, the better chance of counteracting or preventing any adverse reactions and getting your child the care he or she needs.
  • Do keep tabs on the amount of medication you have. Luckily, this caller knew how much medication her daughter had access to — half a bottle. If you have small children in your home, try to keep track of how much medication each container has. In an emergency, this knowledge can help us estimate how much of a drug is in your child’s system. When we know your child’s age and weight, we can determine next steps over the phone.
  • Do know where your medical center is located. If your child needs medical attention, it’s helpful if you can tell us where the nearest medical center is. We can phone ahead and tell them you are on your way so they are ready. Fortunately, in Louisville there are three pediatric emergency departments standing by.
  • Do be careful about what you place near a car seat. Curiosity often gets the best of children. You may think there’s nothing interesting about your tote or handbag, but your child may view things differently. Even if you doubt your child will investigate, keep areas around a car seat clear of anything that could be dangerous.

Need our help? The Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center is ready to answer your questions and help you respond to poison emergencies 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our service is free of charge. Don’t forget to program our number into your cellphone so you can call us anytime — (800) 222-1222.


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