4 Tips For Keeping Your Kids Safe From Dangerous Household Medications

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
Patipat Paipew / Shutterstock

My 4-year-old is a bonafide candy and sweets addict. He spends all day asking if it’s time for dessert, and if he can please, pretty please have a lollipop, just one teeny-tiny lick. Oh my lord, it drives me bananas.

Like any addict, he’ll basically take what he can get, at any time. So it came as no surprise to me that he would be really into the kid’s chewable Advil I gave him when he had an ear infection. I mean, it looks like candy, and even though it tastes like bitter medicine, it’s sweet enough to give him his sugar fix.

Now, you’d think that after I noticed how obsessed he was with medicine, I would take some care to lock it all away, but I figured it was safe in our medicine cabinet, with the child-proof caps on it. It didn’t even dawn on me that he’d take the initiative — or be skilled enough — to get his grubby hands in there to score any of it.

Well, I was wrong—very wrong—and within a few short days, shit got painfully real. (Don’t worry, he ended up being fine, but it was a close call).

Here’s what went down: my son ended up having an allergic reaction to the antibiotic he was given to fight his ear infection, and we had to start giving him Benadryl every 4-6 hours to help deal with the hives and swelling that were overtaking his little body.

Thankfully, it didn’t bother him too much; he was mostly just smitten that he got to take chewable Benadryl a few times a day. Those little purple pills were things of beauty to him.

So beautiful, in fact, that a few mornings into the incident (the kid had that damn rash for almost a week), he woke up earlier than we did, climbed up onto the bathroom counter, and snagged a little purple pill for himself. These pills came in one of those pop-out pouches, and were totally unsecured, right there in our bathroom cabinet.

Oh my God.

Thankfully, he only took one. At least I’m pretty sure it was only one. We quizzed him on how many he took (and he stood by his story that it was just one). We knew roughly how many were left in the box, we did some quick math, and he didn’t seem to be heavily drugged or anything. But boy was it a rude awakening. And you can bet we moved any and all medications (even the ones with the kid safety seals) way the hell out of his reach.

Soon after, I did a bit of research, and found that my story was far from uncommon. In fact, I am one of the luckier ones when it comes to the issue of kids getting their hands on potentially dangerous medications.

According to the CDC, kids ingesting household medications are the #1 cause of emergency room visits for “adverse drug events” for kids under the age of 5. Yikes. And get this: a whopping 53,000 kids are taken to emergency rooms each year because of unsupervised consumption of medications.

Even those of us who think we’ve got things under lock-and-key could probably use a refresher course in household medicine safety. So here are some tips (top three courtesy of the CDC):

Don’t ever leave your kid alone with medications.

Yeah, I know that none of us intends to do this. But maybe you’re popping your monthly Aleve while texting your husband to pick up some extra tampons on his way home, and you leave the pill bottle out as you head to the bathroom. It only takes one second for a precarious toddler to get their hands on the bottle and down the whole thing. So just be really mindful about where you leave that kind of stuff, especially if it’s left opened.

Put your medicine away immediately after you are done using it.

Let’s say you are done with your Aleve (or whatever it is you’re taking), you securely close the top, and then leave it on the counter just for a few minutes until you know you’ll be heading down the hall to the bathroom anyway to wipe your toddler’s butt. We all know what can happen in just a few minutes when it comes to curious kids. And even a child-proof pill bottle can be opened by a child with a little know-how. The best place for your pills are in a child-proof medicine cabinet, way out of reach of any of your kids, at all times.

Always check to make sure the medicine you buy is child-proof.

Not all medicine is! Those pills (like the Benadryl in my story) that pop out of pouches are very easy for crafty little fingers to get into. Same goes for many of the potentially hazardous things that line your medicine cabinet, including topical ointments, cleaning solutions, and certain liquid medicines.

Get on your child’s level and imagine every possible way they might “get into” your medicine cabinet, and make sure it is 1000% childproof.

Children are little monkeys, and even if you think there’s no way they would possibly get into the highest shelf of your medicine cabinet, you might be in for a surprise. Sometimes the best place to store your most dangerous household items is out of reach from anyone in the house. That is what we did, at least. We started storing our meds in a cabinet that even I can’t reach. My husband has to stand on a stool to retrieve my heachache meds, and it sucks, but it would suck even more if our 4-year-old was able to reach them.

Of course, no matter what you do, sometimes the worst thing does happen. That’s why we should all have the number for poison control (1-800-222-1222) on our fridge, saved into our phones, and within reach of anyone who is caring for our kids.

And when your instincts tells you that something is seriously amiss, please don’t hesitate to call 911 and get your kid to the emergency room ASAP.

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