Chasing grandson in the garden during outdoors playtime. With the arrival of sunnier days and warmer temperatures, many children are spending more time outside. While it’s important to encourage exercise and outdoor play, it’s equally important to protect your child from the hazardous products and plants that are found in many backyards.

Madalyn Egan, BSN, RN, a Certified Specialist in Poison Information at CHOP’s Poison Control Center, receives dozens of calls each week from parents whose children were exposed to or ingested a toxic substance while playing outdoors. The good news? Poisonings are 100% preventable.

Here, she shares the types of exposures that prompt the most calls to the center’s 24/7 hotline every spring and offers some practical tips on what you can do to keep your child safe.

Gasoline and patio torch fuel. Be mindful that these products look a lot like apple juice, and may tempt young children. These substances – along with others like motor oil, lighter fluid and paint thinner – are particularly concerning because they are so slippery, says Egan: “If these substances are swallowed, they can slide into the lungs and cause a severe chemical pneumonia.”

What to do: Store these products out of sight and out of reach of children, never set them on a picnic table, and keep them in their original containers. If you suspect your child has swallowed one of these products, call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222. And keep in mind that it can take up to 24 hours for symptoms – which include coughing and difficulty breathing – to develop.

Pesticides and herbicides. If used incorrectly, these products can be dangerous. They should never be used around toys or playground equipment. 

What to do: Store these products out of reach of children and wash your hands after using them. Read the product labels and follow the instructions for using and disposing of these products very carefully. Keep these products in their original containers and under lock and key away from children. If you suspect your child has come in contact with one of these products, call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

Wild mushrooms. Foraging for mushrooms may sound like a fun way to spend an afternoon, but it’s an activity that’s best left to the experts, says Egan, noting that all wild mushrooms should be considered dangerous. “Never pick or eat a wild mushroom,” she says. “And remember that cooking a mushroom that you foraged yourself does not make it safe to eat.”

What to do: Be proactive – keep an eye on your yard and remove any mushrooms that you find. If your child eats a mushroom, gently wipe out their mouth and call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

Wild berries. Wild berries are tempting to children, as they are usually brightly colored and easy for small hands to pluck. 

What to do: Identify and label any berry plants that are growing in your yard. If you need help, you can refer to the photos of nonpoisonous and poisonous berries on the Poison Control Center’s website. The staff at your local garden store or nursery are also a good resource. The Poison Control team has also had good experiences with the cellphone app iNaturalist to help identify plants (though the app cannot replace expert guidance).  If your child has swallowed a berry that you suspect might be poisonous, call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222. Be prepared to provide the name of the berry – or a description of the berry and the plant’s stems and leaves.

Pool chemicals. Opening a pool for the season means opening many boxes of chlorine tablets and other pool chemicals. And if not used properly, these chemicals can cause respiratory symptoms and burns.

What to do: Only open these products outdoors or in a well-ventilated space, and be sure to angle the containers away from your face when you do so. Store them out of reach of children. If you suspect your child has come into contact with one of these products, call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

Beer, wine and other alcoholic drinks. For many adults, picnics, pool parties and barbecues are opportunities to relax with a cold beer or a glass of wine. But there’s a reason alcoholic drinks are called “adult” beverages – they simply aren’t safe for children. “Children are not small adults,” says Egan. “Even a small amount of alcohol can be dangerous for them.”

What to do: Keep an eye on your drink and be careful not to set it down in a place where a child could reach it. And be sure to clean up alcohol immediately after gatherings; don’t wait until the morning. If your suspect your child has ingested alcohol, call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

Egan offers parents one final piece of advice: Post the number for the Poison Control Center’s 24/7 hotline – 1-800-222-1222 – in a prominent place in your home and add it to the “contacts” list on your cellphone. And if you have questions or concerns about a possible poisoning, don’t hesitate to call. “No question is too small,” she says.

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