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Poison Control Center
Happy family in a park.

Little-Known Poisons Present Big Danger

Sure, you keep bleach, prescription medications and drain cleaner out of the reach of small children. But a few other common substances around your home may be just as dangerous.

The good news is that education about the dangers of basic household items has drastically reduced the number of severe cases of poisoning. But Stephen Thornton, MD, medical director of The University of Kansas Hospital Poison Control Center, said more work needs to be done.

“There are many products not as commonly thought of that can cause severe health problems – even death – among small children or teens,” he says.


Top 7 surprising poisons

  • Many eye drops contain the drug tetrahydrozoline, which is similar to a hypertension medication used to control high blood pressure. If ingested, a child may experience very low blood pressure and unconsciousness. The National Institutes of Health reports that the consumption of these eye drops may result in coma, difficulty breathing, blurred vision, blue lips and fingernails and seizures. By pouring eye drops into a drink, they can also be used as a date rape drug.


  • What may seem like a holistic and natural approach to health may actually be a poisonous possibility. Eucalyptus oils and others can cause very serious problems for children who drink them, including unconsciousness and breathing difficulty. Wintergreen oil, used to treat aches and pains, can kill a child with just a teaspoon of consumption, says Dr. Thornton.


  • Many medicines contain dextromethorphan (DXM), which, when taken in excess, can act like PCP and cause hallucinations. "Every month, we see 3 or 4 teenagers in the emergency room for overdoses of cough syrup," Dr. Thornton says. "It only takes a half to a whole bottle to cause severe issues. Many teens experiment with it as a way to get high."


  • Detergent pods may be convenient, but make sure to keep them out of little ones' hands. "They're a big risk for kids," says Dr. Thornton. "Because they look like candy, children eat them. They have different symptoms than drinking regular detergent does. It's really serious and kids may experience difficulty breathing, unconsciousness and brain damage."


  • Although thought to be safer than cigarettes when smoked, the liquid contains high levels of nicotine, which is highly poisonous if ingested. If a child were to drink a whole cylinder of liquid, it could be fatal. "Most of the time, vomiting results,” says Dr. Thornton. “But when it doesn't, the child could die. Treat this stuff like it's a drug and keep it away from young children."


  • The tropical, glossy, shiny leaf plants that make your house look so nice may actually be a danger to your children. They contain high toxins that cause severe irritation in the mouth, affect breathing and cause dangerous swelling.


  • Tiki torch oil, sewing machine oil, some perfumes and lemon furniture polish, among other substances, contain hydrocarbon oil. "The nature of these substances is that even if they are swallowed, they cause choking and are inhaled into the lungs," explainz Dr. Thornton. "Once in the lungs, they coat the airways and cause grunting, coughing, wheezing and an inability to breathe. Children who get this kind of poison in their systems could need a ventilator and the results could be fatal.”


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