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The Poison Purse: Be Wary of the Poison You May Carry


The Poison Purse – Be Wary of the Poison You May Carry


by Julie Harrington, Child Safety Link


As it is for many, my handbag is a catch-all necessity that I take everywhere I go. It’s full to the brim with stuff that helps make my day go more smoothly—keys, phone, wallet, lipstick, extra toothbrush, hand sanitizer, travel bottle of Advil, phone charger, pack of gum—and the list goes on and on.


For small children however, “Mom’s Purse” –or anyone’s purse for that matter—can seem like an amusement park full of wonders! A mysterious place with the promise of a lollipop, or a phone to play with, or some coins for a vending machine—IF they behave themselves at the grocery store.


What many don’t realize—and what many kids have learned the hard way—is that most handbags contain at least one item that can seriously harm a small child. Writing this blog made me curious as to what was in my own bag, so I dumped the contents out on my desk. To my surprise, it contained 7 items that could be considered poisonous! These items are everyday, ordinary things I would never have thought twice about. But, by definition, a poison can be any drug or non-drug substance that can cause illness or injury after ingesting it or coming into contact with it.


In Atlantic Canada, the majority (71%) of unintentional poisoning hospitalizations were children between the ages of 1 and 4, not surprising considering the hand-to-mouth habits of that age group. One common place young children are accessing poisons is from purses that have been left within their reach.


According to the IWK Regional Poison Centre, there are five items commonly found in purses that we purse-carriers need to be especially careful with:

  • Toothpaste: Toothpaste can be appealing to kids, especially those with candy-like flavours and packaging. Many types of toothpaste contain sodium fluoride, which is meant for topical purposes to prevent tooth decay.  However, if it is swallowed, this mixes with stomach juices to create a poison that can result in nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or in more extreme cases, low blood pressure and irregular heartbeat.
  • Medication: Kids can be attracted to pills because they can look or taste like candy, with bright colours and sugary coatings. However, young children are especially vulnerable to medication because of their smaller size and weight, and can be seriously injured by even common medicines (i.e. acetaminophen) or supplements (i.e. iron pills).
  • Nicotine: Cigarettes, nicotine gum and some electronic cigarettes can be a poisoning risk for children. A small child can suffer effects of nicotine poisoning from ingesting just one cigarette. Nicotine poisoning can result in nausea and vomiting in mild cases, to weakness, tremors, convulsions, abnormal heart rhythms, multi-organ depression and even death. Nicotine gum is especially scary as it is packaged just like regular bubblegum, which many kids love.
  • Alcohol: That peach-scented hand sanitizer?—not so “peachy” after all. Perfumes, hand sanitizers, mouthwashes—these cosmetic items all contain concentrated alcohol, and can be attractive to small children because of their colour or scent. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning can range from vomiting to seizures, to unconsciousness.
  • Coins: Swallowing a coin could be harmless, if it passes through the digestive system, but can become VERY dangerous if it become lodged at any point in the digestive tract.

What can we do to help prevent unintentional poisonings? Because we are always going to carry these necessities in our purses, it is of the utmost importance that handbags be kept away from small children. If you have young children, ensure your purses always kept in an out-of-reach location. If you are visiting a home with young children, be sure your purse is closed and well out of reach of any curious little hands.


As for the contents of the purse, it’s a good idea to always keep medication in its original, child-resistant container, NOT in a plastic baggie or pill container. Keep in mind that “child-resistant” packaging does not mean “child proof”—given enough time, many children can learn how to access a bottle or container.


Remember, if you think your child may have been poisoned, please call the Poison Centre at 1-800-565-8161, or 911.


March 18-24, 2018 is Poison Prevention Week across Canada.


Please spread this message to all the families you know and help keep our children safe!

For more information on poison prevention, visit www.childsafetylink.ca