The 15 Medicines Most Dangerous to Your Toddler

Here's the thing about poison: We expect it to come wrapped up in enough warning labels to cover Canada and sealed inside a bottle that's hard for us to open, let alone kids. But that's hardly ever the case, and the stuff that's most likely to poison kids is the same stuff you take every day without blinking an eye.


Tiny, seemingly harmless, pills (think Advil and Tylenol) and other medicines actually poison to warrant more than 1,100 calls to Poison Control every single day. That's more than 670,000 calls a year. As staggering as that number is, that only includes the calls for kids ages 1 to 4 that are directly related to medicine. The numbers for all kids and all poisons are up in the millions, but that's a story for another day.

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Non-profit Safe Kids Worldwide worked with the American Association of Poison Control Centers to look at the data and figure out what it is exactly that's getting so many kids into trouble with medicine. 

In the report, they split the exposures to poison into two categories: the first, which accounted for two out of 10 cases, they called "unintentional-therapeutic exposures." This is any case where kids are intentionally given medicine, but something goes wrong -- either they get too much or the wrong kind.

But the vast majority of cases fall into the second category, which Safe Kids Worldwide called "unintentional-general exposures." That's anything not in the first category: babies picking up pills off the floor, toddlers finding Mom's medicine in her purse, or any other way that kids could consume medicine that's not meant for them.

In that second category, there are a couple of items that come up again and again as especially dangerous for kids. So what is it exactly that you want to be on the lookout for? Here's the list, ranked by the percentage of exposures they cause in children younger than 5:

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  1. Diaper Care and Rash Products: One out of four times kids younger than 5 are being poisoned, it's because of diaper care and rash products. They're the number one culprit for kids younger than 1, and the number 3 for kids ages 1 to 4. So if you keep your rash products on the changing table within kids' reach, it might be time to reconsider your storage options -- because even inhaling this stuff can be really toxic to kids.
  2. Ibuprofen: This tiny pill doesn't have a huge effect on adults by itself, which is why we tend to carry a big bottle with us everywhere. But even one pill can be extremely toxic to kids, which is why it's the number one poison for kids 1 to 4 and the number two for babies younger than 1.
  3. Acetaminophin: Another favorite in the pain reliever family, Tylenol might be the most well known version of this drug. It's common around the house, which makes it dangerous to kids -- about 11 percent exposures are because of it.
  4. Multiple Vitamins: Vitamins rank as the second biggest thing poisoning kids ages 1 to 4, and it comes in at sixth for babies under 1. The category includes vitamins meant for adults and those meant for kids. They're not something we usually think of as dangerous, but they most definitely are when kids chow on them like candy. The experts warn not to tell kids that their medicine or vitamins are "just like candy" to convince them to swallow for this exact reason.
  5. Antihistamines: Medicines like nasal sprays, eye drops, Benadryl, and Claritin fall into this category, and they hit the lists at numbers five and number seven for kids 1 to 4 and babies younger than 1, respectively. They rarely come in kid-proof containers, making it even more important that they're stored out of kids' little arm spans.

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  6. Camphor: If you've ever used Vick's VapoRub, you're familiar with the minty smell and sensation of camphor. It's used in a lot of topical ointments but because of it's odor and strength, it can be really toxic to kids. It's the fifth most dangerous medicine for babies younger than 1, and the eighth for kids 1 to 4.
  7. Topical Antifungal Preparations: Like anything topically applied, antifungal preparations can be pretty harsh on skin -- especially if that skin is as raw as a baby's. It's the fourth most dangerous medicine for babies younger than 1.
  8. Calcium and Calcium Salts: Calcium in all of its different forms can treat a huge range of sicks and symptoms. It's usually found in pill form, making it easy for kids to snap up. It accounts for a total of about 3 percent of poison exposures, and most of those are in children 1 to 4.
  9. Laxatives: Laxatives are another medicine not uncommon around the house, but they're particularly dangerous for kids ages 1 to 4, where they rank 7th on the list of the most dangerous medicines. 

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  10. Topical Steroids: Usually coming in the form of lotions and ointments, topical steroids are used to treat a wide range of skin conditions. But they're strong enough to be hugely dangerous to babies younger than 1 and account for 2.2 percent of their poison exposures.
  11. Diphenhydramine: A form of antihistimine, diphenhydramines are a significant enough danger for babies younger than 1 to warrant their own category. They're most commonly used to treat severe allergic reactions and motion sickness.
  12. Topical Antibiotic Preparations: These hit the list at number nine for babies. Usually found in ointment form, this kind of preparation is used to treat acne and other skin conditions. 
  13. Melatonin: Melatonin is the 10th most dangerous medicine for kids 1 to 4. It's a supplement that's usually used to regulate sleep, but even though it's natural, it's far too strong for kids' small bodies to handle.
  14. Systemic Antibiotic Preparations: Another common form for antibiotics, these preparations rank as the 10th most dangerous medicine for babies younger than 1 and account for a little less than 2 percent of their exposures.

Safe Kids Worldwide also reported that the top three places for kids to get into medicine they shouldn't are on the ground, in purses or bags, and on counters or nightstands. More than 95 percent of all exposures take place in the victim's own home, which makes sense: It's where kids are given the most freedom.

Toddlers are basically designed to find things they're not supposed to, so nowhere that's not way off the ground or locked up tight is going to be safe.

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Safe Kids World Wide and the American Association of Poison Control Centers recommend keeping medicines high up, locked away, and out of sight. They also warn that a lot of medicines are overlooked because parents don't really consider them "medicine" --even though they are. We're talking about things like diaper rash soothers, eye drops, and vitamins, which seem harmless enough but are some of the most dangerous medicines on the list.

The comforting thing here is that a lot of these poison exposures reported to poison control hotlines don't do any lasting damage. Even so, it doesn't take much to send small children to the hospital, so it's always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to medicine.

Have you ever had a poison scare in your home?


Image via Thomas M Perkins

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