When to Seek Medical Care for Your Child: Part 5

Poisonings in children are most often preventable. Dr. Epstein, pediatric intensivist, discusses the most common poisons for children and what to be concerned about.

(This is the 5th in a series of articles of the same title. Read the 1st article here)


As parents, we are always concerned about the health of our children. One of the most common questions that I get is:

“When should I seek medical care for my child?”

My simple response is:

”Whenever you feel the need!”

This is part 5 in continuation of “When to Seek Medical Care for Your Child” and the final part in this series. I will discuss suspected poisonous ingestions in this current posting.

I have had many experiences with toxic or poisonous ingestions over my career.

They range from an intentional ingestion of a large dose of Tylenol, by a teenager, causing liver failure in the pediatric intensive care unit to an accidental ingestion of a candy given by a stranger that was infused with THC (the main psychoactive compound in marijuana) and, subsequently, caused altered mental status in a young child.

As a physician in acute care pediatrics, our main duty is to stabilize, support, and treat a child after a poisonous or toxic ingestion, but the most important piece of advice that I can give to parents is to try and not let it happen in the first place.


As a physician in acute care pediatrics, our main duty is to stabilize, support, and treat a child after a poisonous or toxic ingestion, but the most important piece of advice I give to parents is to not let it happen in 1st place. Click To Tweet


It is a tall order because poisonous and toxic substances are ubiquitous in our environment, especially in our homes. Also, young children put everything in their mouths and many of the colorful substances are too tempting for them to not trying and eat or drink.

These range from home cleaning supplies that can cause chemical burns if swallowed to medications stored at home that can cause suppression of breathing, slowing of the heart rate, or a drop in blood sugar levels.

Also, because of the growth the marijuana edibles industry, kids have a greater potential of eating things that look exactly like candy and treats that they are used to seeing, but contain THC like the story that I mentioned above.

All of this may be overwhelming, but there are support systems in place to help parents and families try and prevent a catastrophic illness and injury from a poisonous or toxic ingestion.

Prevention is the primary treatment plan.

This treatment plan includes putting potentially dangerous substances in places that are out of reach for young children, putting them in secured cabinets, and using medication bottles that are difficult for children to open.

A fantastic resource for parents is on the American Academy of Pediatrics sponsored website, healthychildren.org. This is a great resource for parents on many topics, but they have a specific page on poison prevention as well.

The other resource that is critical for families is the poison control center. They will be able to answer your questions and help you decide the seriousness of the ingestion.

All parents should have the phone number handy: 1-800-222-1222.

The poison control center is specialized to answer questions about the endless possible substances that someone can be exposed to. Finally, your primary care physician is an excellent resource as well and they can guide you and address your concerns.

If the ingestion occurs and you need to know if you should seek medical attention at your local hospital, call poison control or your primary care physician as soon as possible. However, if your child is not breathing, unconscious, or having seizures or convulsions due to a poison ingestion or contact, call 911 or your local emergency department immediately. Nevertheless, if you are concerned in any way and want your child to be examined by a medical provider, just take them to your local hospital for a thorough evaluation. It is never an overreaction to seek medical care for your child, if you are concerned about something potentially poisonous that they ingested or came in contact with.

Has your child, or anyone else’s child that you know, ingested a poisonous or potentially toxic substance?

What was your experience?

If you have any questions about this or other topics, please feel link up with me via my profile.


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