The Maryland Poison Center (MPC) answers over 44,000 calls every year. Some callers use home remedies or information passed down from their family when trying to treat a suspected poisoning. Others go to the internet. While some of the information provided by family members and the internet might be correct (you are reading this on the internet after all), sometimes this information is wrong or out of date. There are also a few poison myths floating around out there.
Last month in our newsletter, Poison Prevention Press, we gave a brief overview of some of these myths. But there was so much to say, and so little room to say it. We decided to give you a bit more information here.
Myth: Drinking a lot of water will remove a substance from your body faster.
You’ve probably heard this: someone needs to pass a drug test, so they drink a lot of water to help their body remove the drug quicker. Liquids are helpful for clearing the mouth and throat, but drinking extra water will not remove the poison from the body quicker. In fact, drinking too much water can itself be dangerous.
Myth: Herbal and natural remedies and organic personal care products are completely safe and non-toxic.
Natural products and supplements contain active ingredients that have strong effects on the body. It is not safe to assume that because something comes from nature that it will be harmless to you. Talk to your doctor before you begin using any supplement. They can interact with prescription and over the counter medicine, so keep the names of any you take on your medicine list.
We think you should also know that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not review herbal and dietary supplement products for their safety and effectiveness before they are available for people to buy. As recently as 2015, studies found that supplements don’t always contain the ingredients listed on the label.
Myth: Symptoms from poisonings occur immediately.
How soon symptoms begin depends on the substance you are exposed to. Some symptoms happen right away. Others may take minutes or hours to begin. The best thing to do if you suspect a poisoning is to call and speak with one of our poison specialists. They can point out specific symptoms to watch for and when to expect them.
Myth: Children will not eat things that taste bad.
In general, kids are curious enough to taste anything. This is a totally normal behavior for a young child. Also, young children do not have a fully developed sense of taste. What tastes bad to you may not taste bad to a child.
Myth: Children cannot open child-proof containers.
There is no such thing as a child-proof container: something that is impossible for a child to open. Certain products and substances have a lid or come in a container that is “child-resistant” because it is more difficult, but not impossible, for a child to open. If given enough time, many children can open a child-resistant cap.
Myth: Children can become drunk by licking hand sanitizer.
Most hand sanitizers are 60-90% alcohol, but licking a single squirt or a pea-sized amount from the hands is not dangerous. Consuming larger amounts from the bottle can be dangerous since alcohol affects children differently than it does adults.
Myth: Vomiting or giving milk is the universal antidote.
As we’ve said before, the only “universal antidote” for poisoning is the expert advice of a poison specialist. Depending on the substance swallowed, forcing someone to vomit can lead to choking, burning the throat, or getting the substance in the lungs! Sometimes our specialists will recommend you drink milk but not for every poison. Always call to find out what the best steps are for you.
Myth: Poinsettias are poisonous.
The plant is not deadly to people or pets. If eaten in large amounts, poinsettias will only cause stomach upset. Since they are smaller than people, pets may develop symptoms after eating smaller amounts. For the best poison advice for your pet, call a pet poison center.
Remember, contacting our poison specialists can help you get the right answer right away. There is a lot of information our here on the internet, but that cannot replace our 250+ years of combined experience helping people like you.