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Discard unused medications, prevent accidental poisonings

Tue., June 7, 2011, midnight

When we first brought our daughter home, we had already installed baby gates, outlet covers and cabinet locks.

A friend was visiting around this time. When she saw the new additions to our home she said, “They didn’t have all this stuff when we were kids. I guess we’re lucky we survived.”

I have often thought the same thing.

Safety at home is not just about our children. There are many easy ways to make home a safer place for everyone in the family, from toddlers to seniors.

Accidental poisoning has been increasing in the United States since 1992. Among children, medication poisonings happen twice as often as those from household products (such as cleaning supplies).

Medicines, vitamins, herbal remedies, cleaners, fertilizer, oil, gasoline, weed killer, insecticides and all other potential poisons should be kept locked up or in secured cabinets. Keeping these on a high place or “out of the way” is not safe enough past the age when children can crawl.

This is especially important if your child is at that age where absolutely everything goes into his or her mouth. Children are especially attracted to products that smell good or are brightly colored and could be easily mistaken as something nice to snack on.

Children’s vitamins can even be dangerous since too many can cause life-threatening health problems.

Accidental poisoning is not limited to kids. Adults with impaired vision, limited reading skills, or who get easily confused need to have pill bottles stored separately and have assistance with medications.

Get rid of unused and expired medications to reduce your risk of accidental poisoning. Obtain the latest advice for disposing of medication from the Food and Drug Administration (888-463-6332, ConsumerUpdates/ ucm101653.htm).

Falls are an important safety issue in the home, from a slippery floor to a loose rug to stuff underfoot.

Grab bars and nonslip mats or appliques in the shower or tub can make your bathroom a safer place.

Throw rugs can be pretty dangerous, even if they are attractive. If getting rid of them is not an option, I recommend taping or tacking them down to reduce slippage.

Stairs are safest when they have handrails, a nonslip surface and good lighting. Do not leave things on the stairs.

If you have a baby or toddler, put safety gates at the top and bottom of all staircases. Gates with hardware that screws into the sides of the staircases are the most effective.

Nightlights in the bathroom, hallway and bedrooms make middle-of-the-night bathroom runs and diaper changes less of an opportunity to get tripped up.

If you have to get to something out of reach, a ladder or step-stool placed firmly on an even surface is the safest option. Standing on chairs, boxes and other unstable things increases your risk of falling.

Another option for hard-to-reach items is an extension device you can use to grab objects weighing less than 5 pounds.

Train your pets not to get underfoot or to jump on people. I know this is easier said than done, but an estimated 90,000 fall injuries are connected to cats and dogs each year.

Even though I am a dog lover, I have to admit that the majority of the falls involve dogs. The better Fido’s manners are, the better it is for everyone.

Avoid burns in the kitchen by turning pot and skillet handles so they are not sticking out where you can accidentally bump into them or little ones can reach up and grab them.

Have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. Everyone in the house should know how and when to use it, and when to get out and call 911.

Keep the fire extinguisher at the entrance to your kitchen where it is easy to see and reach. You do not want to have to get past the stove fire to get to the extinguisher.

The more you do to reduce the risk of injury in your home, the more you reduce your chance of meeting up with me or one of my colleagues in the emergency room. And that is a good thing.

Dr. Alisa Hideg is a family medicine physician at Group Health’s Riverfront Medical Center in Spokane. Her column appears every other Tuesday in the Today section. Send your questions and comments to


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