Federal regulators are warning parents and grandparents that two common health products they might think are safe for kids — over-the-counter eye drops and nasal sprays — can actually pose dangerous poisoning hazards to children who swallow them.
The Food and Drug Administration, in a new alert, said the agency had identified 96 cases since 1985 of children poisoned by the active ingredients in such common medicine-cabinet staples as Visine, Dristan, and Mucinex.
Although no deaths were reported in the cases — involving children under 5 years of age — more than half of the kids were hospitalization because of symptoms that included nausea, vomiting, lethargy (sleepiness), tachycardia (fast heart beat), and coma.
Cases were reported by both consumers and manufacturers to government databases monitored by FDA. According to some case reports, children were chewing or sucking on the bottles or were found with an empty bottle next to them.
FDA is recommending such products — which contain the active ingredients tetrahydrozoline, oxymetazoline, or naphazoline — out of the reach of children at all times.
"Children who swallow even miniscule amounts of these products can have serious adverse effects," said Yelena Maslov, an FDA pharmacist. "In the hands of young children who are apt to swallow them, they can cause serious health consequences."
In the eyes, the ingredients work by narrowing blood vessels to relieve redness from minor eye irritations. In the nose, they constrict blood vessels to relieve nasal congestion.
In January, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission proposed a rule to require child-resistant packaging for such products, but it has not been finalized.
More than 60,000 young children end up in emergency departments every year because they get into medicines that can harm them, FDA estimates.
To reduce child-poisoning risks, FDA recommends that parents and other caregivers:
• Store medicines in a safe location that is too high for young children to reach or see.
• Never leave medicines or vitamins out on a kitchen counter or at a sick child's bedside.
• If a medicine bottle does have a safety cap, be sure to relock it each time you use it.
• Remind babysitters, houseguests, and visitors to keep purses, bags, or coats that have medicines in them away and out of sight when they are in your home.
• Avoid taking medicines in front of young children because they like to mimic adults.
• Call the National Capital Poison Center (800-222-1222) and seek emergency medical attention immediately, if a child accidentally swallows a medicine. Parents can program this number into their home and cell phones or post it in plain sight at home, for easy access in an emergency.