Are you at risk for a medication interaction?

Woman holding two pill bottlesDo you regularly take more than one medication?

The more medicine you take—including prescription medications, over-the-counter medications and supplements—the more likely you are to have a medication error or a harmful interaction between your medications.

The risks are especially high for older adults, who often take multiple medications. According to a study released this year, about 1 in 6 adults age 62 and older are at risk for a harmful drug interaction.

What can you do to decrease your risk?

  • Keep a list of all the medications you take, including supplements and natural products.
  • Share this list with your health care provider and your pharmacist at every visit.
  • Fill all your prescriptions at one pharmacy if possible. This makes it easier for your pharmacist to identify possible prescription drug interactions.
  • Keep track of your medication schedule. Consider using a written calendar and checking a box each time you take a medication.

The poison center is here to help. Call 1-800-222-1222, chat online or text POISON to 85511 if:

  • You took the wrong medication
  • You took too much of your medication
  • You took your medication at the wrong time
  • You aren’t feeling well after taking a medication
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Avoid poisonings when using flea treatments

Fleas: It’s a word no pet owner wants to hear. These little insects can cause your dog or cat lots of itching and scratching, and sometimes other health problems, such as hair loss, skin irritation, anemia, and tapeworms.There are many types of flea products: pills, collars, sprays, dips, shampoos, powders and spot-on products—a liquid you squeeze onto your pet’s skin between their shoulder blades or down their back. Talk to your veterinarian about which product is best for your pet. Whichever product you use, it’s important to take care when using flea treatments. Like any pesticide, a flea treatment can be harmful to your pet or family if not used correctly. Here are some tips for using flea products safely:

Cats scratching
CDC photo
  • Choose the right product for your type of pet, and your pet’s size. For example, a product intended for dogs may be harmful to cats, or a product for a bigger animal could be poisonous to a smaller one.
  • Read the product label before you use it each time and follow the directions exactly.
  • When possible, apply the product to your pet outdoors.
  • Keep your pet away from other animals and young children and avoid petting your pet until after the product dries.
  • Wash your hands after using a flea treatment product.
  • Store products up high, out of the reach of children and pets.

Watch your pet for side effects after you use the product. If your pet is acting unusual or seems sick call your veterinarian or contact the poison center—call 1-800-222-1222, chat online or text POISON to 85511. Contact the poison center for treatment advice if you or a family member has any symptoms such as upset stomach, rash or trouble breathing.If your pet has a bad experience after you apply a spot-on product, give your pet a bath right away. Use mild soap and rinse with a lot of water. Then call your veterinarian.

Fleas in the Home

While you will likely spot adult fleas on your pet or elsewhere in your home, flea eggs or larvae may be hiding throughout your pet’s environment, usually in places like carpeting, bedding and under furniture edges. So if your pet has fleas, it’s important to do what you can to clean your home as well. Take these steps: 

  • Vacuum every day to remove fleas and their eggs and larvae. Concentrate on carpets and cushioned furniture, any cracks or crevices in the floor and along the baseboards.
  • Steam clean your carpets. The hot steam and soap kill fleas, eggs and larvae.
  • Wash your pet’s bedding, and any family bedding your pet sleeps on, in hot, soapy water.
  • Use a flea comb to remove fleas, flea feces and dried blood from your pet’s fur. Thoroughly comb the neck and tail area where most fleas are.
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Watch out for brown-tail moth caterpillars

Brown-tail moth caterpillar
Brown-tail moth caterpillar photo via the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry

Brown-tail moth caterpillars are out in force in parts of Maine, particularly along the coast, and will likely remain a problem through the end of June.

These caterpillars have tiny poisonous hairs that can cause skin or lung irritation. You don’t have to touch the caterpillar to contact its hairs. They often get into the air when the caterpillar sheds.

Most people who develop symptoms get a small rash that lasts a few hours or days, but some people can have a severe rash that lasts for weeks. Breathing in the hairs can also cause severe lung irritation.

If you are having symptoms related to brown-tail moths, contact the poison center at 1-800-222-1222, chat online or text POISON to 85511. We can determine whether you need see your doctor or pharmacist or visit the emergency department.

There are some steps you can take to prevent contact with poisonous caterpillar hairs if you have them in your yard:

  • Dry your laundry indoors, rather than out on a line, so hairs do not get in your clothes.
  • When doing outdoor activities that might stir up hairs, such as mowing, raking, and weed whacking:
    • Perform tasks on a damp day with little wind, or spray down grass or plants with a hose. This helps keep the hairs from getting up into the air.
    • Wear a respirator, goggles, and long sleeves and pants.
    • Take a cool shower immediately after working, and wash your work clothes.

Get more information about brown-tail moths from the Maine Forest Service.

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Get expert advice in minutes, 24/7

If you have ever had to take a young child to the emergency room, you know that the process can feel like an eternity—driving to the hospital while worrying if your child is all right, registering at the emergency department and then waiting to see a nurse or doctor. By the time the whole trip is done, it may have taken hours just to find out, hopefully, that your child is fine and you can go home.

Clock ticking
Image by Kengo Preston.
(Creative Commons)

Imagine if you could get fast, expert advice without needing to leave your home—that you could have the answer you need in minutes over the phone rather than spending hours in an emergency department waiting room or exam room.

The Northern New England Poison Center provides just that. Nine out of 10 times that people call the poison center about young children, they can be treated at home over the phone. If you or your child took the wrong medication or too much medication, or swallowed something that wasn’t food or drink, contact the poison center to get fast first-aid advice that can save you time and money. In many cases the poison center will call you back to check on you and your child and see if you have any questions.

The NNEPC is committed to making it as easy as possible for you to reach us. Not only can you call us on the national poison center help line, 1-800-222-1222, you can also get quick advice from the same poison experts by texting the word POISON to 85511, or by chatting online on our website.

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Time to clean out old medications and hazardous waste

While you’re giving your home a thorough spring cleaning, it’s a good time to get rid of things you no longer need, like old medications. In fact, there is a great opportunity this month to dispose of medications that have expired or that you no longer need.

DEA medication take-back logoThe DEA is holding a national drug take-back from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 30, 2016. Police stations and other locations across the country will be accepting medications for disposal. Getting rid of medications at a take-back event can help prevent poisonings of young children and pets, keep medications out of the environment, and help prevent them from being abused.

Visit the DEA’s site to find a take-back location near you.

Also remember to get rid of your household hazardous waste—items that contain chemicals that can be harmful to health or the environment. If the label says the product is toxic, corrosive, reactive, explosive, ignitable or flammable, it is likely hazardous waste and cannot be thrown in your regular trash.

Household hazardous waste can include electronics, certain types of batteries, paint, mercury-containing products such as thermometers and fluorescent light bulbs, pesticides, gasoline and certain cleaning products. Many towns have special hazardous waste collection days when you can get rid of these items safely.

CFL bulb
Compact fluorescent light bulbs contain some mercury, and should be disposed of as hazardous waste. Photo from SFHazWaste, Creative Commons.

The best way to find out how to dispose of these items is to call your town office.

You can find more information regarding disposal in your state online:

There are also many alternatives to using hazardous products. The EPA’s Safer Choice Standard identifies products that are still effective but safer for people and the environment.

If you have questions about medications or household products, contact the NNEPC. We are here to help 24/7. Just call 1-800-222-1222, chat online or text POISON to 85511.

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Stay safe while spring cleaning

The weather is getting warmer and that means it’s time for spring cleaning. Open the windows and let the fresh air in!

Cleaning supplies

While you’re making your living space tidy, remember to use cleaning products safely.

  • Read the directions on the label of any cleaner you use. Pay attention to warnings about ventilating the area by keeping the windows open, keeping children and pets away.
  • Do not mix cleaning products. One common mistake is mixing bleach with a product that contains ammonia. This produces chloramine gas, which can be extremely irritating to the eyes and lungs. The product label will tell you if it contains ammonia.
  • Store products in their original containers. Avoid transferring them to milk jugs, soda bottles or other containers, because someone may accidentally drink the cleaner.
  • Keep the cap on cleaning products as much as possible while using them, and put products away as soon as you are finished. Store cleaning products up high, out of the reach of children and pets.

Remember the poison center is here for you 24/7. Whether your child swallowed a cleaning product, or you got one on your skin or in your eyes, help is just a quick call away at 1-800-222-1222. You can also chat online or text POISON to 85511.

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Poisonings affect people of all ages

People of all ages call the poison centerEvery day poison centers receive calls from and about people of every age, from infants to people in their 80s and beyond. Some types of poisoning are more common at specific ages, while others are common at every stage of life, such as medication errors.

Medication errors happen when someone accidentally uses medication in a way other than how it is intended. For a young child, it could be a parent or caregiver giving the wrong medication or too much for the child’s weight. A teen or adult might take someone else’s medication by mistake. For an older adult, it could be taken a morning medication in the evening.

Here’s a look at other common reasons people call the poison center for different ages:

  • Children 3 years old and younger: Most calls in this age group are because children are crawling or walking around and putting things in their mouths or spilling things on themselves.
  • Preschool and elementary-aged children: This age group is less likely to get poisoned, but may swallow things or put things on their skin while testing boundaries or responding to dares.
  • Teenagers: Teens may become poisoned while trying to get high or in attempts to harm themselves. These reasons for poisoning continue into adult ages, and most calls about these types of poisonings come from hospitals looking for poison center advice in treating the patient.
  • Adults: Adults may breathe in chemicals or get them on their skin at work. This can happen in almost any profession, not just industrial jobs.
  • Older adults: As people age they may start to take multiple medications, often prescribed by different doctors. Poisonings sometimes happen when a person takes a medication that interacts with another medication or with a health condition.

These are just some of the reasons you may find yourself in need of the poison center. It just goes to show, no matter what your age, whether you’re a parent or not, it pays to have the poison center number handy. Store 1-800-222-1222 in your phone today. And remember you can also contact us 24/7 by live online chat.

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Why do parents call the poison center?

Kids act fast, but fortunately so do poison centers. A call to the poison center is your instant connection to an expert, which can be especially handy if you’re a parent. We can provide peace of mind within minutes.

Every year, about 2 out of every 5 calls to the poison center are about children 5 years old or younger.

Pediatric Exposures by Age
Among young children, 1- and 2-year-olds are the most likely to make their parents or caregivers pick up the phone and call 1-800-222-1222. Children this age are exploring their environment, often by putting things in their mouths. You might be surprised by all the things kids can get into, but we’ve heard nearly everything.

Here’s a look at what kids were most likely to get into at their home or someone else’s in 2015.

Pediactric Exposure Substances Pie Chart
Calling the poison center can also save you a long wait in the emergency room. In 19 out of 20 cases, young children who get into possible poisons in the home can be safely treated right there with poison center advice – saving you lots of time.

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Some household products can be poisonous

Putting medicine up high
Keeping medications up high is just one of the steps you can take to help prevent poisonings at home. (Image from the Up and Away campaign)

Did you know most poisonings happen at home? Every day we use products to keep our cars working, our homes clean and our bodies healthy. Most of these products have gotten safer over the years. However, some still can be poisonous to people or animals if used in the wrong way. Here are some basic steps you can take to keep your family and pets safe:

Use everyday products safely:

  • Keep products in their original containers with the cap on tight.
  • Store up high, out of sight of children and pets, and away from food and drink.
  • Read the label before using the product each time.
  • Get rid of unwanted products safely. There may be instructions on the product label, or you can try calling your town office or local waste disposal facility.
  • Store the poison center number, 1-800-222-1222, in your cell phone. You can call us with questions or if something unexpected happens.

Here are just a few household items that can be poisonous if used in the wrong way:

  • Acids and alkalis, such as toilet and drain cleaners and hair relaxers
  • Alcohol-containing products, such as hand sanitizer, mouthwash and perfume or cologne
  • Automotive products like antifreeze, windshield wiper fluid and gasoline
  • Button or disc batteries
  • Certain glues and adhesives, such as epoxy
  • Household cleaners like furniture polish, pine oil and laundry detergent or pods
  • Medications
  • Pesticides, such as mothballs and rat poison

Remember, the poison center is here 24/7 to help you treat possible poisonings, or just to answer your questions. Call 1-800-222-1222 or chat online.

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Calling the poison center: My child ate toothpaste

In September we looked at what you can expect when you call the poison center. This month we’ll show you how a call might sound. The example here is pretty common—what do you do if your child got into the toothpaste? With brightly colored packages and kid-friendly flavors, it’s no wonder this happens a lot!

As you’ll see reading the script, having the tube with you when you contact the poison center (1-800-222-1222 or chat online) can be really helpful. Some toothpaste is fluoride-free “training” toothpaste for young children, while most kinds have fluoride to fight cavities.

Toothpaste photo by Mauren Veras, Creative Commons

Poison Center: Poison center. How may I help you?

Caller: Hi, I found my daughter eating toothpaste out of the tube and I’m not sure if I should be worried.

PC: OK, how old is your daughter?

Caller: 3 years old

PC: And how much does she weigh?

Caller: About 30 or 35 pounds

PC: How long ago did she swallow the toothpaste?

Caller: It was probably about 5 minutes ago

PC: What is the name of the toothpaste? Can you read me the active ingredient on the label?

Caller: It’s “Dora the Explorer” from Colgate. It says it has 0.24% sodium fluoride, 0.15% fluoride ion.

PC: How much do you think she swallowed?

Caller: There’s still a lot left in the tube, so I wouldn’t think much. Maybe a tablespoon?

PC: How does she look? Any complaints?

Caller: No, she looks fine. She’s playing right now.

PC: OK, I’m going to do a quick calculation.

(caller briefly placed on hold)

PC: Your daughter is going to be fine. Just have her drink a glass of milk. Call back if she gets an upset stomach or throws up.

Caller: Great. Thanks so much!

Since toothpaste-related poisonings depend on how much the child weighs and how much fluoride they swallowed, a call like this can save hours of worry and unnecessary trip to the emergency room. Visit our poison index for more information on fluoride.

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