Eye Drops, Nasal Sprays Dangerous if Consumed by Curious Kids
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The FDA is warning the public to always keep eye drops and nasal sprays out of the reach of children

Updated: March 01, 2017

It's every parent's nightmare: Your back is turned, and your child swallows something toxic. It happens with products that you may not think of as dangerous. Take over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops used to relieve redness or nasal decongestant sprays.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning the public to keep these products—which contain the active ingredients tetrahydrozoline, oxymetazoline, or naphazoline (known as imidazoline derivatives)—out of the reach of children at all times. The products are sold under various brand names such as Visine, Dristan and Mucinex, as well as in generic and store brands.

Between 1985 and 2012, the FDA identified 96 cases in which children ranging from 1 month to 5 years accidentally swallowed products containing these ingredients. Cases were reported by both consumers and manufacturers to government databases monitored by the FDA. According to some case reports, children were chewing or sucking on the bottles or were found with an empty bottle next to them.

There were no deaths reported, but more than half of the cases (53) reported hospitalization because of symptoms that included nausea, vomiting, lethargy (sleepiness), tachycardia (fast heart beat), and coma.

A Call for Child-Proof Packaging

In January of 2012, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) proposed a rule to require child-resistant packaging for all products containing at least 0.08 mg of an imidazoline derivative. However, this rule has not been finalized. In addition, the FDA's Division of Medication Error Prevention and Analysis (DMEPA) is partnering with CPSC to warn consumers about the need to keep these products safely out of the reach of children.

According to Up and Away and Out of Sight—an educational initiative to remind families of the importance of safe medicine storage, in which the FDA is a partner—more than 60,000 young children end up in emergency departments every year because they get into medicines while their parent or caregiver are not looking.

If a child accidentally swallows OTC redness-relief eye drops or nasal decongestant spray, call your local poison control center (1-800-222-1222) immediately. Experts are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

To help avoid a child's accidental exposure to any medication, parents and other caregivers should:

  • 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.
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