Aug. 2, 2010 -- The number of young children treated in hospital ERs because of exposure to cleaning products has dropped by almost half in less than two decades, but thousands of preventable injuries still occur every year, a new study finds.
Based on their analysis of 20 years of injury data, researchers from Columbus, Ohio’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital estimate that just over 267,000 children under age 6 were treated for poisoning or skin contact injuries related to cleaning products during a 17-year period between 1990 and 2006.
In 1990, about 10 young children out of 10,000 were treated for such exposures, compared to five in 10,000 in 2006, the researchers conclude.
The proliferation of child-resistant packaging and the advent of the national 800-222-1222 poison control hotline that can direct callers to regional poison control centers have played a role in the decline, says lead researcher Lara McKenzie, PhD, of Nationwide Children’s Center for Injury Research and Policy.
About two-thirds of the reported injuries involved ingestion poisoning and about one in seven involved chemical burns.
The study appears in the September issue of the journal Pediatrics.
"We have made a good deal of progress, but we could do better and there are still some areas of concern,” McKenzie tells WebMD.
Dangerous Combination: Spray Bottles and Bleach
These days, many household cleaning injuries to young children involve two things: bleach and spray bottles.
About 40% of reported injuries were caused by exposure to household bleach. An equal number involved spray bottles, which tend to be less child resistant than other packaging.
“Bleach is the product people most often put into other containers, like a spray bottle,” McKenzie says.
In 2008, 14,640 bleach-related poisonings and two deaths in children under age 6 were reported to poison control centers in the United States.
Because more and more household cleaners are being purchased from warehouse retailers where the packaging is huge, more and more consumers are putting the products into different bottles.
To a young child, electric blue glass cleaner, mouthwash, or antifreeze may look no different from a sports drink or other familiar beverage, Nationwide Children’s toxicologist Heath Jolliff, DO, tells WebMD.
“Most harmful products now come with child-resistant caps, but that doesn’t mean anything when products are put in different bottles,” he says. “Harmful cleaning products should never be transferred into bottles that kids can get into and all cleaning products, including spray bottles, should be locked away.”
Pine Cleaners, Oil Polishes Cause Lung Injuries
As associate medical director of the Central Ohio Poison Center, Jalliff routinely sees cleaning product injuries firsthand.
He says 80% to 90% of calls to the poison control hotline involving young children do not require a trip to the ER, and many of those that do are not serious injuries.
The most serious injuries often involve oil-based products like pine and citrus oil cleaners and liquid furniture polishes that contain hydrocarbons, he says.
Children rarely drink these products, but if they get them into their mouths they often choke and breathe them into their lungs.
These injuries often cause a chemical pneumonia that can result in major lung damage or death, he says.
Brittany Oliver’s now 3-year-old daughter Alexus was one of the lucky ones.
When she was 1 1/2 years old, Alexus apparently swallowed some pine cleaner left out when Brittany and her mother were cleaning the family’s house in preparation for a move.
“I didn’t know anything was wrong until she burped up a bubble in the car on the way home,” Brittany tells WebMD.
She called poison control immediately and was told to give her daughter some water, which she did. The little girl threw up and a trip to Nationwide Children’s ER confirmed that she was fine.
Jalliff says another young child recently treated at Nationwide Children’s for hydrocarbon-related injury was not so lucky.
“The child suffered a horrendous injury to the lungs,” he says. “These are the types of exposures that we really hate to see.”
To reduce the risk of injury to young children, Jalliff recommends:
- That parents and caregivers store the 800-222-1222 poison control hotline number on their cell phones and have it readily available in the home.
- Storing all cleaning products, including spray bottles, in cabinets with child-resistant locks when young children are in the home.
- Keep cleaning products in their original packaging.