Poison trees bear poison fruit

Published 3:09 pm Monday, March 21, 2022

As a child, I ate a poisonous mushroom in the yard and it required an ER visit with treatment to save my life. Have you ever thought about the dangers of poisons in our homes, workplaces and environment? We’re taught about toxins from such a young age that much of our knowledge has become instinctive. I have food allergies and must be vigilant with everything I consume every day. And I’m prepared with an EpiPen should I accidentally eat something that has been prepared or cross-contaminated with one of my allergens or I am stung by a fire ant.


March 20 marks the beginning of spring, but more importantly, it’s the start of National Poison Prevention Week. Intended to raise awareness, Poison Prevention Week exposes poisons’ dangers and hopes to reduce the number of toxic exposures. 

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Poisoning is an injury (or death) caused by ingesting, inhaling, touching, or injecting drugs, chemicals, plant-based toxic agents, venoms, or gasses. Risks of poisoning come from a host of toxins, including indoor and outdoor plants, carbon monoxide exposure, chemicals, medications, personal care products, soaps, lead paint, stinging insects and marine animals, spider bites, snake bites, and much more. The fact is poisons are in abundance all around us.


Did you know that poisoning is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States? This cause of death is higher than drowning and car accidents. 




There are more than 2,000,000 human exposures every year. That’s about one case every 15 seconds. Poisoning is the leading cause of injury deaths across all age groups.


Poison Prevention Timeline


1953 – St. Luke’s Hospital in Chicago was the first poison center opened in America. 


1961 – National Poison Prevention Week was established in 1961 by Congress to raise awareness and reduce unintentional poisonings.


1962 – The first observance of National Poison Prevention Week was under President John Kennedy in March 1962.


1970 – With the passage of the Poison Prevention Packaging Act, child-resistant closures became mandatory for all over-the-counter prescription medications and dangerous household products.


The top five substance exposures are:


  1. Painkillers, anti-inflammatories, and opioids (10.3%)
  2. Household cleaning substances (8.4%)
  3. Personal care products/cosmetics (6.5%)
  4. Antidepressants (5.3%)
  5. Sedative/Hypnotics/Antipsychotics (4.9%)


Exposures by the Numbers


  • Eighty-three percent of all cases involve ingestion of a substance
  • Seventeen percent of all incidents occur through the skin, eyes, or inhalation
  • Forty-two percent of all exposures were children under the age of five
  • Ninety-three percent of all exposures occurred in the home
  • Seventy-seven percent of the poison exposures were unintentional
  • Eighteen percent of the exposures were intentional


Types of Exposure


  • Personal exposure occurs at home and typically involves food poisoning and allergies, overdoses, drug interactions, plant, and household product exposure.


  • Occupational exposurecommonly involves inhalation and dermal contact with hazardous materials, chemical spills, and heavy metals.


  • Environmental exposure includes contact to air, water, and soil pollutants, chemical spills, venomous animal and insect bites, outdoor plants, and molds.


Household Products that can be poison


  • Food
  • Prescription meds
  • Mold and mildew killers
  • Insecticides and weed killers
  • Insect repellants
  • Rodent poisons
  • Bleach, disinfectants, and sanitizers
  • Pool chemicals
  • Pet flea and tick shampoos and powders


Symptoms of Poisoning


Symptoms of poisoning broadly vary based on the type, amount of exposure, and age of the patient. However, sudden onset or unexplained symptoms may indicate poisoning, and you should seek immediate attention.


Some of the symptoms include:


  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pains
  • Distorted vision
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness, loss of consciousness, seizing


Tips for Poison Prevention


  • Keep your medicine cabinet cleaned out
  • Store all chemicals out of reach of children
  • Keep all products in their original containers
  • Never mix chemicals
  • Make sure that lids are secured
  • Carefully read all labels
  • Dispose of old medications




If someone close to you has been exposed to poison, you should contact the Poison Control Center right of way. While most exposures can be monitored and treated at home, if the victim is seizing, bleeding, foaming at the mouth, or unconscious, call 911 right away. It’s essential to know the toxin exposure when calling for help.


Remember this number; it can save your life: 1-800-222-1222. It’s the Poison Helpline, and it works anywhere in the U.S.


If you have a healthcare topic of interest or a question, send me a note at Michelle.Fortune@slhnc.org. Also, please follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or visit StLukesNC.org to learn about top-rated St. Luke’s Hospital and our new world-class services.