Fortunately, once children are in the emergency room, doctors can rapidly respond, as some medications have antidotes, reversal agents or supportive therapy.
On the following pages are seven of some of the more common medicines that, while useful or even life-saving for the patients who take them, can lead to emergencies when accidentally ingested by kids.
Category: Calcium channel blockers
Scientific names: Diltiazem, Verapamil, Amlodipine, Nifedipine
Brand names: Cardizem, Cartia, Norvasc
Indications: High blood pressure (hypertension), angina, atrial fibrillation
Symptoms in children: Dangerously low blood pressure and heart rate, seizures
For patients with heart issues, medications in this family are very commonly prescribed. They are used to treat a number of cardiac conditions, from high blood pressure to fast heart rates. However, in children, they can cause dangerously low blood pressure and heart rate, and even lead to shock.
Symptoms in children who ingest these medications usually show up one to five hours after they take the pill, but in the extended release pills, they may be delayed up to 14 hours -- a fact that may make it even more difficult for the parent to figure out why the child is ill.
Spiller, of the Kentucky Regional Poison Center, said that he once treated a 2-year-old girl who, while being babysat by her grandmother, took between two and four of the woman's Amlodipine (Norvasc) pills. Initially the toddler showed no symptoms, so it was 45 minutes before the family brought her to the hospital. When the girl became drowsy, they rushed her in – but to no avail. Spiller said her blood pressure was already dangerously low, and within 45 minutes her heart rate plummeted. Eventually, her heart stopped.
"No matter what we did, we were not able to get back a blood pressure or any sort of rhythm," Spiller said.
"All [calcium channel blockers] in kids are frightening to me," Spiller said. "If they take them, and take enough, then you're fighting against a hurricane. They are difficult to rescue."
Category: Camphor-containing rubs
Scientific name: Camphor
Brand names: Vicks VapoRub, Ben-Gay, Tiger Balm, Save the Baby
Indications: Relieves muscle aches, itching, coughing, and fever blisters
Symptoms in children: Rapid development of seizures, delirium, coma, and death
Camphor is a very common product in over-the-counter products. It also has a very pungent odor and taste, which may make it seem like the last thing a toddler would try to eat.
But according to the AAPCC, in 2001 there were almost 8,000 cases of camphor ingestion in children younger than 6 years old. Camphor is especially dangerous because ingesting it works so quickly; symptoms occur within 10-20 minutes, and often children can go into seizures without any warning. Shortly after ingesting these rubs, children may become hyperactive and restless. The skin around their lips may become blue. In the worst cases, these symptoms can progress to seizures and, eventually, to coma and respiratory depression, in which they may stop breathing altogether. Unfortunately, the amount that it takes to send a child into this downward spiral is very small; toddlers have been known to have seizures within 10 minutes after eating only one to two teaspoonfuls, and even one teaspoon can be lethal.