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March 20, 2018  |  Login
by James F. Balch, M.D. and Mark Stengler, N.D.

Among children ages five and under, 60 percent of poisoning exposures are by nonpharmaceutical products, such as cosmetics, cleaning substances, plants, foreign bodies and toys, pesticides, art supplies, and alcohol. The remaining
40 percent are from pharmaceuticals.

Iron Poisoning from Supplements or Medicines
From 1986 through 1997, more than 218,000 children, ages five and under, ingested iron preparations, and 46 died. Again, make sure that medicines and supplements are out of the reach of children.

The ingestion of dust from deteriorating lead-based paint is the most common cause of lead poisoning among children. Currently, more than 80 percent of public and privately owned housing units built before 1980 contain some lead-based paint.


Poisoning can occur a number of ways. It can occur because of a dangerous mixture of medications, from an overdose, from swallowing dangerous household chemicals or insecticides, and from ingesting poisonous plants, food, or nicotine.

A person's reaction can vary, dependent on the type and the amount of toxins ingested, with possible emergency and fatal outcomes. Reactions can include inflammation or burning around the lips, if the substance was taken orally; difficulty swallowing; nausea; sudden behavior changes; extreme thirst; breathing difficulties; unconsciousness; headaches; convulsions; vomiting; and death.

Improper use of medications, such as an overdose or the mixture of one medication with another without the doctor's recommendation, can trigger an adverse reaction. Many prescription medications can have negative effects when combined with others. Also, some people unknowingly harbor allergies to medications, which could lead to poisonous predicaments.

Children with access to household chemicals, detergents, and cleaners that are poorly capped and stored are vulnerable to sampling these poisons. The immediate response could include vomiting or gagging. Also, children may accidentally lick, chew, or swallow poisonous plants or nicotine patches, which could induce dizziness or possibly only transitory distress.

Another more common form of poisoning comes from the ingestion of tainted food that was improperly cleaned, cooked, or refrigerated. These foods can contain dangerous bacteria and contaminants that create a feeling of pain, bloating, and nausea for three to six hours after consumption, as well as diarrhea, stomach cramps, and vomiting (see the food poisoning page).

The most serious type of food poisoning, particularly with improperly canned foods and seafood, is a potentially fatal form known as botulism. Generally, the longer it takes for the symptoms of food poisoning to appear, the more serious the poisoning.

Next: What are the Symptoms of Poisoning

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