What hidden dangers are lurking in your home?
As we discovered to our horror late last year (household substances that can kill your kids in minutes), the most common and seemingly innocuous household products, including Tiger Balm, eye wash and essential oils (will the real Sarah Moore please stand up), can be potentially lethal for our little cherubs. As it turns out, there are plenty of other dangers lurking in our homes.
We all know the importance of keeping our cleaning supplies locked away where children can’t get to them. But while you wouldn’t keep household detergent within easy reach of your nestlings, you might not even stop to consider that a simple kitchen spice could kill your child, that baby oil is so hazardous it can leave your child mentally retarded or even dead, and that a plant you can buy in Ikea is potentially deadly to tots and pooches alike. And you wouldn’t be alone.
Here’s our guide to five more everyday household items that can kill your kids in minutes.
Lock away: Cinnamon
Potential outcome of consumption/inhalation: Inflammation and scarring of the lungs, breathing problems, asthma, and death.
What’s the problem?
Crikey, this one came as a complete shock to me! While cinnamon is yummy when sprinkled on a Christmas biscuit or a doughnut, doctors warn that consuming too much cinnamon in one toddler-sized mouthful can result in inadvertent inhalation of the spice. As cinnamon is extremely caustic to the airways when inhaled, it causes inflammation and scarring of the lungs and can even lead to death. Sadly, that was exactly the case in June this year when four-year-old Matthew Rader died in the USA after accidently inhaling some ground cinnamon. According to his mother, Matthew immediately started to choke and went into a seizure before eventually collapsing. He was rushed to hospital but was pronounced dead 90 minutes later.
So what had happened? The coroner investigating the case ruled that Matthew had died from painful cinnamon asphyxiation. Although he had been completely fit and healthy before deciding to taste the cinnamon, the ingestion of the powder had caused him to gag and inhale it as he ate it. Cinnamon is made from tree bark and contains cellulose, a substance that doesn’t break down easily. If cellulose gets into your lungs, it is there to stay. In most cases it will cause inflammation, thickening of lung tissue, and scarring. It can even cause pneumonia or a collapsed lung. In Matthew’s case, it caused him to suffocate.
Read the science: Ingesting and aspirating cinnamon
The upshot: A sprinkle of cinnamon on your littlies’ oatmeal is not going to result in a frantic dash to casualty. However, make sure you keep cinnamon and other spices away from curious mini people who may decide to shove a bit more than a sprinkle into their mouths.
Lock away: Products containing hydrocarbons such as baby oil, some hair oils, nail-varnish dryers, some makeup removers, massage oils, household lubricating oil, lamp oil, and some kinds of furniture polish.
Potential outcome of consumption/inhalation: Lung irritation, pneumonia, death.
What’s the problem?
So, here’s a shocker. Baby oil is extremely dangerous… for babies. Who knew? Sadly, a few unlucky parents have found this out the very hard way.
Interestingly, the dangers of baby oil are extremely well documented. However, so many of us parents simply haven’t got a clue about how deadly this baby product can be for our tots. The first case to highlight the perils of the slippery stuff emerged in 1985 when 15-month-old David Ayers suffered life-changing injuries after he drank baby oil. Unfortunately, on its way down, some of the oil entered the tot’s lungs and did so much damage that he now suffers from mental retardation, an inability to move his arms and an inability to speak… all because a bottle of baby oil was left lying around. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s done that! You can read the full story here.
Sadly, David’s parents weren’t the only ones to learn about the dangers of baby oil before it was far too late. In a similar case in 2001, Jaiden Bryson drank some baby oil and fell seriously ill several hours later. He was rushed to hospital where doctors discovered he had inhaled some of the oil. He died 28 days later as a result of the damage the oil had done to his lungs. His mum later told newspapers: “It says for babies. You don’t think a product for babies can kill a child.” Indeed.
Slippery liquids can be very easily aspirated (breathed into someone’s lungs as they try to swallow them) and that is exactly what happened in both of these cases. The hydrocarbons that are present in many oils are extremely dangerous if swallowed and will cause irreversible damage.
In the US, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) mandates that all products that contain hydrocarbons (including baby oil) are sold in child-resistant packaging. Major manufacturers that sell their baby oil products in the US use packaging that incorporates kiddy-proof lids and very big and clear safety warnings, yet those very same companies don’t use such measures here in Singapore. Why is that?
The upshot: Prevention is very important because aspirating a hydrocarbon is so dangerous. In the absence of a toddler-proof cap, either ditch the dangerous products altogether or keep them well and truly out of reach of wandering hands. Don’t put these products down and turn your back, even for a second. As every mama and dada knows, that’s really all it takes for a curious toddler to grab the bottle and take a swig.
Lock away: Fridge magnets, magnetic stress toys, magnetic necklaces and bracelets, fake piercings, magnetic toy building and construction sets, magnetic letters
Potential outcome of consumption: Choking, blocked intestine, perforated bowel, death.
Do you have funky magnets plastered all over your fridge? Perhaps you have a cool magnetic desk sculpture that you like to play with while you’re supposed to be paying the bills?
Well, as with everything else on this list, these things are probably a lot more lethal than you think they are. Not only are small magnets a serious choking hazard, but swallowing them can cause irreversible internal injuries and even death. That’s exactly what happened in the case of 19-month Annaka Chaffin in the United States. Annaka swallowed seven small magnetic balls from a toy magnetic necklace that her little brothers had kindly made for her. The magnets reconnected with each other while passing through her internal system, causing perforation of her bowel. Sadly, despite emergency surgery, she did not survive.
Accidents involving magnets are a lot more common that you would care to think. A recent study by the Journal of Paediatrics found that that over 2,700 children visited USA-based emergency rooms over the last decade because they had ingested magnets, a threefold increase on the previous decade. In the UK, doctors wrote a letter to highly respected medical journal, ‘The Lancet’ warning of the growing popularity of magnetic toys and the dangers they pose to children. They cited two cases within 18 months in Nottingham, UK, where children had ingested magnets that had then become lodged in their intestines. One of the kids was eight years old, proving that it’s not just the teeny tinies that we need to keep an eye on. Elsewhere, in Russia, one mama was shocked when she realised her littlie had removed and swallowed a mammoth 42 magnets from the kitchen fridge! He was rushed to hospital and operated upon; luckily he lived to see another day.
In America, there are now very strict magnet-specific toy standards and labeling requirements in force but, yet again, the need for such measures hasn’t captured policy maker’s attention in Singapore.
The upshot: Keep products that contain small or loose magnets away from children who may mistake them for candy (or attempt to eat them anyway). Avoid having magnetic stress toys or desk sculptures that are made of tons of powerful magnets around the house. Closely monitor the kiddos if they do play with toys that contain magnets. Educate your older kids on the potential dangers of magnets.
Read more: The dangers of magnets
Lock away: Sago palm.
Potential outcome of consumption/inhalation: Vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, depression, seizures, liver failure, toxic liver disease, death.
What’s the problem?
So here’s another seemingly innocuous thing that lurks in many homes in Singapore: a plant. This plant is no ordinary plant, however, it is highly poisonous to animals and humans if ingested. The sago palm, which actually isn’t a palm at all but rather a cycad (David Attenborough eat your heart out!), is no good for humans and animals, and very little ingestion of plant material from this beaut can cause serious poisoning. While all parts of the plant are toxic, it’s those toddler-enticing seeds that are the most lethal. Ingestion of just two of these minuscule pips can result in serious problems.
So common is this exotic houseplant that in many areas of the world you can even buy it in Ikea!
Fortunately, there have been no cases of children dying from eating sago palm; however, a quick Google search and you’ll come across hundreds of cases of our four-legged friends meeting their untimely end as a result of snacking on the green stuff.
Other plants to watch out for: Azelea, Boxwood, Cala lily, Cyclamen, Daffodil, Dumb cane, Foxglove, Hyacinth, Hydragea, Lantana, Mistletoe, Rhododendron.
Read the science: Are sago palms poisonous?
The upshot: Fully research plants before you buy them and stick them within reach of your tot.
Lock away: Kinetic sand, Squishy, Sands Alive, Cra-Z-Sand, Brookstone & Moon Sand
Potential outcome of consumption: Choking, blocked intestine.
According to the Kinetic Sand safety data sheet, if you swallow it, there’s “No need for first aid.” Au contraire: it’s very dangerous if eaten.
Luckily, a tail-wagging canine friend took the hit for us here. Parents all over the world learned about the dangers of kinetic sand when Molly the Ozzie staffy decided to snack on her human sibling’s sand while no one was watching. It was a snack the pooch lived to regret. She quickly fell ill and was rushed to the vet where an X-ray revealed her little doggy intestines were completely clogged full of kinetic badness:
She was forced to undergo emergency surgery by which the sand was manually squeezed out of her intestines bit by bit in a painstaking procedure.
Advertised as 98 percent sand and two percent ‘magic’, it’s the ‘magic’ that’s the problem. Kinetic sand contains a bonding agent that causes it to stick only to itself; as such, it is permanently malleable and resolutely binds together and refuses to budge.
Much as I think this stuff is totally cool, judging by the way my monkey shoveled sand in her mouth last time we were at Tanjong Beach, this is most certainly a product I’m going to leave on the shelf for the time being.
Other innocent toys to look out for include: Water Balz
The upshot: The packaging on kinetic sands advises that it’s not safe for kiddos under three. If you do let your childerbeasts get stuck in, do keep a close eye on them!
Not sure what to do in a poisoning emergency? Check out the Singapore Baby guide to what to do in a poisoning emergency in Singapore.
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The information contained in this website is for informational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice.