Top 5 causes of poisoning in older adults

The top 5 causes of accidental poisonings among older Kentuckians are more common than you think.

Ever accidentally brushed your teeth with pain relief cream? If so, you’re not alone.

You might think it’s mostly kids who are victims of accidental poisonings, but adults actually account for nearly half of the 60,000 calls to the Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center each year.

Ashley Webb, director of the Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center and a board-certified clinical toxicologist, said many of those calls are from Kentuckians age 65 and older. Of those calls, 85 percent are for medication mistakes.

“The most common thing we see is somebody taking someone else’s or a pet’s medication by mistake,” Webb said. “We also see errors with taking medication at the wrong time of day, or mixing medications together and then taking the wrong thing.”

To raise awareness as part of National Poison Prevention Week, March 20 to 26, here are the top causes of poisoning in adults based on calls to the Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center:

  1. Medication: Dosage mistakes with heart medicines are the No. 1 reason older adults call the poison control center. Other issues involve taking too much pain medication or sedatives (sleep and anxiety medicine), and brushing teeth with arthritis cream or other medication ointments.
  2. Cosmetics/personal care products: The most common items older adults overdo it on are denture cleaner, hand sanitizer and mouthwash. The mistake with these products is almost always being in a hurry and using the wrong product (for example, using hand sanitizer as mouthwash). 
  3. Household cleaning products: Items such as bleach, drain cleaner and disinfectants are put in unlabeled bottles and mistakenly consumed. Other issues include eye and skin exposures and inhaling fumes. 
  4. Pesticides: Bug sprays and bug bombs are most common. Calls are either about people who are using bug spray or bombs and worried about breathing the fumes or accidentally getting the spray in the eyes or on the skin. 
  5. Bites (venomous and nonvenomous): The poison control center gets more calls about snakebites than any other type of bite. Copperheads are the most common concern. The center also receives numerous calls about spider and ant bites.

While many people say they feel embarrassed about calling the poison control center, Webb said they’ve heard it all.

“Believe it or not we’ve heard almost everything, and we’re here to provide recommendations based on your individual experience and help you decide whether or not things are OK or if you need to seek additional health care,” Webb said.

If you suspect you or a loved one has been exposed to a poison, call the Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center at (800) 222-1222 for advice, assessment and recommendations. All calls are confidential and most cases can be managed at home, saving you the cost of going to an emergency room or urgent care center.

If the person is unconscious, not breathing or having a seizure, always call 911.

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