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Poison Center Helpline 1-800-222-1222

Spring Safety

Spring Allergies

Many people suffer from allergies in the spring. An allergy is a heightened response of the body’s immune system to particular triggers/substances.  When exposed to these substances, the immune system releases a chemical called histamine, which is responsible for allergic symptoms.  These symptoms include itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing, postnasal drip, and possible chest tightness.

Most over-the-counter allergy medications are antihistamines, and they work by preventing cells from releasing histamine, therefore preventing allergy symptoms.

  • The older antihistamine products such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimaton), brompheniramine (Bromfed), and doxylamine work really well in relieving allergy symptoms.
  • Be warned, their side effects are such that you may rather have the allergy symptoms than the side affects of the allergy medication. These side effects include drowsiness, dry mouth, and blurry vision just to name a few. These products can be used in children older than 5 years (always check with a doctor before giving any of these medications to children).
  • Newer antihistamines (cetirizine/Zyrtec® , loratadine/Claritin®, and fexofenadine/Allegra®) work just as well and do not cause drowsiness in most patients.  They can be used in anyone 2 years and older (again, always check with your child’s doctor first).

Another class of medications which may be helpful in treating your symptoms is decongestants.

  • These include pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) and phenylephrine (SudafedPE).  They work by constricting blood vessels in your nose, and at the same time make it easier to breathe.  But before you jump in,
  • Be careful – these medications have a lot of side effects, such as trouble sleeping, anxiety, increased heart rate and increased blood pressure.
  • If your blood pressure is not well controlled or if you have heart problems, you should not use these medications unless you are told to do so by your doctor.  Always talk to your pharmacist about other medications you are taking!

Many of the products discussed here are available in combination with each other as well as with cough suppressants, expectorants, or pain relievers.  If you’re taking more than one product, be careful that the ingredients are not duplicated.  If you’re unsure, ask the pharmacist for help.

Pseudoephedrine products don’t require a prescription but they are kept behind the pharmacy counter because of abuse concerns.

You can attack symptoms like itchy eyes and nasal congestion at their source with eye drops and nasal sprays.  Applying the product directly to the source of the problem generally means faster relief and because these medications are not absorbed by the body, they generally do not cause many side effects. 

If you decide to use decongestant nasal sprays, make sure you don’t use them for over three consecutive days. Otherwise, you could end up with worse congestion than you started with! Many nasal sprays consist of the decongestants which were discussed earlier and their effect lasts anywhere from 4 to 12 hours. Afrin® (oxymetazoline) is the most common and popular nasal decongestant spray.  Saline sprays may also provide some relief of allergy symptoms and are especially recommendedfor children or females who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Natural, non-medication allergy remedies are also available for allergy sufferers. The use of a humidifier, neti pot or squeeze/spray bottle may help with nasal congestion. These products work by utilizing warm water or steam to alleviate symptoms and clear the sinuses.

Remember to always read the medication directions.  If you have any questions or concerns regarding allergy medications and/or potential poisoning concerns, please call the Illinois Poison Center at 800-222-1222.

Spring Cleaning

Before you start your spring cleaning, IPC advises you to take additional precautions when clearing out cupboards, closets, basements and garages. Spending a few extra minutes to correct any potential poisoning hazards in your home could prevent serious harm — even death — for a family member, neighbor or pet.

Each year, the IPC handles many calls involving toxic exposure to household cleaners, with products such as bleaches, disinfectants, floor and tile cleaners, automatic dishwasher detergent and glass cleaners, most commonly mentioned as the source of the poisoning. Frequently, exposures occurred because these products were not in their original containers, had been improperly used, or had been left open and unattended by an adult.

To protect children and adults from an accidental poisoning exposure during your spring clean-up, the IPC offers the following tips for poison-proofing your home:   

  • Whenever using cleaning products, always read the product label first and use the product according to the label directions   
  • Keep all cleaning products in their original containers with original labels   
  • Store cleaning products out of sight, in locked cabinets   
  • Keep all household cleaning products and other poisonous products separated from food products   
  • Never leave a cleaning product open and unattended   
  • When using cleaning products, work in well-ventilated areas     
  • Dispose of cleaning products according to the instructions on the label or at your community chemical waste drop-off site

These poison-proofing tips also apply when cleaning garages and basements, which typically contain many potential hazards, such as bug spray, weed killers, gasoline, oil, paint and other supplies.

Special caution should be observed when mixing cleaning products that contain bleach or other chlorine-active compounds (sodium hypochlorite).  If bleach is mixed with ammonia or ammonium-based products, it will release a noxious gas called chloramine.  If bleach is mixed with an acid-based product, such as a toilet bowl cleaner or lime remover, it will release chlorine gas.

These types of poisonings often occur in the bathroom, in part, because many bathroom cleaners are acid-based.  For example, the IPC has received numerous calls from people who, while cleaning the bathroom shower, mixed a mildew stain remover (containing bleach) with a lime remover (containing acid) and as a result, were exposed to chlorine gas. This is one of the many reasons it is important to read product labels carefully.

Exposure to either of these gases can cause mild to serious respiratory tract irritation, including coughing, burning and tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing and shortness of breath; more serious cases may require treatment in a hospital emergency department.

Because of their curious nature, children frequently come in contact with household cleaning products. Keeping the IPC phone number (1-800-222-1222) on all your phones will ensure you don’t waste precious seconds when dealing with a poisoning emergency.

In case of a poisoning exposure, follow these first-aid steps, then call the IPC:

  • Swallowed: Give water to drink. If the victim is unconscious, call 911 or take the victim to the nearest hospital emergency department. Never try to chemically neutralize any poison.  
  • Skin: Remove contaminated clothing and wash skin gently with soap and cool water.  
  • Eyes: Rinse eyes with lukewarm water for 15 minutes.   
  • Fumes: Remove victim to fresh air, taking care not to become exposed yourself. If the victim is not breathing, call 911 and start artificial respiration and continue until medical help arrives.

Approximately 90 percent of poisonings can be treated safely and effectively at home, by calling the IPC and providing the name of the poisonous substance and the approximate amount involved in the exposure. The IPC’s staff of pharmacists, physicians, nurses and poison information specialists have access to references which allow them to quickly determine the degree of toxicity or hazard, and they will offer recommendations for managing the poisoning.  They will advise callers to see a physician or visit an emergency room if a doctor’s care is needed. They’ll also make a follow-up call and suggest further care, if necessary.