'Poison purse' items can put children at risk

Some items in purses and handbags could be poisonous to children, the IWK's Regional Poison Centre warns.

Common purse contents are dangerous for youngsters, say poison control experts

The focus for Nova Scotia Poison Prevention Week is on the potential dangers of many average purse contents for children. (Child Safety Link, IWK Regional Poison Centre)

Some items in purses and handbags could be poisonous to children, the IWK's Regional Poison Centre warns.

Over the past three years, the poison centre has received about four calls a day about medication-related poisonings involving children five years old and younger.

"The purse is one of the common methods that children like to explore and open and get into. It's very attractive and it's very reachable for them," said Laurie Mosher, the poison centre's clinical leader.

For this year's Nova Scotia Poison Prevention Week, March 16 to 22, the poison centre and Child Safety Link, a children’s injury prevention program based at the IWK, are partnering to raise awareness about dangerous everyday items that people carry in their purses.

Child Safety Link recommends the following tips to prevent poisonings:

  • Keep all purses out of reach of small children.
  • If you carry medication with you, keep it in its original, child-resistant container, not in a plastic baggie or pill container. Child-resistant packaging does not mean "child proof." Given enough time, many children can learn how to access a bottle or container.
  • Teach your children not to swallow toothpaste while they are brushing their teeth.
  • Keep emergency numbers, such as the IWK Regional Poison Centre number 1-800-565-8161 (P.E.I. and Nova Scotia) and 911, near the phone.
  • In the event that your child might be poisoned, do not wait for symptoms before calling.

The week is not only a great time to remind parents and caregivers about protecting children from dangerous substances at home, says Sandra Newton, manager of the Child Safety Link program.

5 common items

"Many people are diligent about locking up their household cleaners and medicines, but don't realize how dangerous some of the items are that they carry around with them every day," Newton said. 

Sarah and Jordan Yarr have two girls: Amata, three, and Dorothy, one.

"Dorothy is definitely very interested in emptying things and filling them," said Sarah Yarr.

"A purse is like this perfect opportunity for her to get a chance to empty something, in her mind. So if she sees one there she's going to unzip it and start digging through it."

Ever since a friend's child took Advil from her grandmother's purse, Yarr now asks guests to put their bags on her coat closet shelf.

The poison centre says there are five items commonly found in purses that need extra vigilance.

  • Medication: Kids can be attracted to pills because they can look or taste like candy, with bright colours and sugary coatings. Young children are especially vulnerable to medication because of their smaller size and weight and can be seriously injured by even common medicines such as acetaminophen or supplements.
  • Toothpaste: Many types of toothpaste contain sodium fluoride, which is meant for topical purposes to prevent tooth decay. However, if swallowed in a large quantity, it mixes with stomach juices to create a poison that can result in nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or in more extreme cases, low blood pressure and an irregular heartbeat.
  • Nicotine: Cigarettes, nicotine gum and some electronic cigarettes can be poisonous to children. A small child can suffer effects of nicotine poisoning from ingesting just one cigarette. Nicotine gum is especially problematic as it is packaged just like regular bubblegum.
  • Alcohol: Perfumes, hand sanitizers and mouthwashes contain concentrated alcohol. They can be attractive to small children because of their colour or scent. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning can include vomiting, seizures and unconsciousness.
  • Coins: Swallowing a coin can be dangerous if it becomes lodged at any point in the digestive tract.