- Swallows an unusual but harmless, non-solid substance
- Swallows a bad-looking, bad-smelling, or bad tasting food
- Swallows a non-food substance
Types of Harmless Substances
- Spoiled food. Small risk of vomiting or diarrhea.
- Raw or undercooked meat or eggs. Small risk of vomiting or diarrhea.
- Pet food is safe if the food is fresh. Usually safe even if some of it has been eaten by the pet.
- Reptile food (such as mealworms or other small insects). Usually safe.
- Dead insects, spiders or worms found outside. Usually safe.
- Dirty water from toilet, fish tank, pond, stream. Small risk of vomiting and/or diarrhea.
- Dirt or sand. Small risk of swallowed germs from animal feces (poop).
- Human feces (poop). Usually, this is safe unless stool is diarrhea
- Animal feces (poop). Small risk of vomiting and/or diarrhea. Rare risk of worms.
- Cat litter. Harmless. It's sterilized earth or clay. Usually safe even if in a used cat box.
Spoiled Foods and Mold on Foods
- Main cause of spoiled food. Chilled food or drink left out at room temp over 2 hours. If food sits out all night (or power goes off to fridge), you should throw it away. Some examples of spoiled food are:
- Moldy cheese or bakery goods
- Curdled milk
- Rotten fruit
- Food scraps taken out of trash
- Eating a spoiled food is often harmless. Sometimes, it can cause mild vomiting or diarrhea. Serious symptoms are rare.
- Safest plan: throw out spoiled or moldy foods.
Types of Harmless Products
The products below are harmless if tasted or swallowed:
- Soaps. Hand soaps (liquid or bar), shampoo
- Skin products. Corn starch baby powder is harmless. Talcum powder can be harmful if inhaled, but it is harmless if eaten. Hand lotions (creams or ointments), petroleum jelly and shaving cream are also safe. Creams and ointments that have over-the-counter (OTC) medicines in them are safe. OTC means you can buy them without a prescription. Examples are antibiotic, steroid, anti-fungal, anti-yeast, and diaper rash creams and ointments. A small taste of sunscreen is also safe. See next section.
- Make-up such as lipstick, blush, mascara. Deodorants and hair sprays are often also harmless, unless they have alcohol in them. Perfumes always have alcohol in them and can be harmful. See next section.
- Mouth products such as breath mints, chewing gum, small amount of toothpaste. Mouth washes may have alcohol in them and can be harmful. See below.
- Writing products. Includes chalk, crayons, paper, pen and marker ink. Lead pencils (which are really graphite) are also safe.
- Paints/Glue. White glue and arts-and-crafts glue are safe. Water color paints and water-based paints are also safe.
- Pets. Dog or cat food, cat litter (earth or clay) are safe.
- Other harmless items. Candles, cooking lard or grease, dirt, glow products (glow sticks), play dough, yard grass. Mercury in glass thermometers is safe if swallowed, but harmful if inhaled. Silica granules (in desiccant packets) are also safe.
Harmless Products, but Only if Swallowed in Small Amounts
The items listed below when eaten are usually safe and not a problem. But, there are exceptions. If a larger amount is swallowed, call the Poison Center.
- Deodorants. Exception: liquid type deodorant and more than a taste. Reason: may have alcohol in it.
- Hairspray. Exception: more than a taste. Reason: often has alcohol in it.
- Hand sanitizer. Exception: more than a taste. Reason: has 60% alcohol in it.
- Hydrogen peroxide 3%. Exception: more than 3%. Industrial strength solutions use 10 to 30%.
- Mouth washes. Exception: more than a taste. Reason: may have alcohol in it.
- Paper matches. Exception: 10 or more are eaten.
- Perfumes. Exception: more than a taste. Reason: perfumes have more than 90% alcohol.
- Sunscreens. Exception: eats more than 1 ounce (2 Tablespoons or 30 mL). Reason: Some sunscreens have aspirin-like products in them.
- Toothpaste. Exception: large amount, such as more than a mouthful (2 ounces or 60 mL).
Honey if Babies Under 12 Months Old
- If your baby has eaten honey (or another honey product), don't panic!
- Risk. In infants, honey has a very small link to a disease called infantile botulism. It is an illness that causes weak muscles. But, the good news is that it is rare. The risk to your baby is very small. Here are some facts and what to watch for.
- How honey can affect infants. Botulinum spores may be present in some honey products. These spores can lead to growth of bacteria in the gut. If this happens, the bacteria can release toxin. The toxin affects the muscles and cause weakness.
- Disease onset. 3-30 days after eating botulinum spores
- Infantile botulism symptoms. Usually starts with constipation. Other symptoms are trouble swallowing with lots of drooling and a poor suck. Your baby will have a hard time feeding. It can cause weakness such as a floppy head or limp arms and legs. Your baby may also have droopy eyes, a weak cry and seem more tired.
- Call your doctor now if your baby has any of these symptoms. If caught early, treatment is usually successful without long-term effects.
- Prevention. Children under 1 year should not be given honey or liquid honey products. Children over 1 year and adults have more stomach acid than babies. The acid in the gut destroys the spores. This is why honey is safe after 1 year.
- What is it? Symptoms from eating a food with bacteria or toxins in it. Also known as a food-borne illness.
- Food poisoning outbreak. Defined as when 2 or more people come down with like symptoms. Happens after eating a common food at the same restaurant or outing. This finding helps to confirm food poisoning.
- Symptoms. Vomiting, nausea (upset stomach), stomach cramps and/or diarrhea. Fever is uncommon in cases of toxin-induced food poisoning.
- What to expect. Symptoms from toxins usually begin within 1 to 12 hours. They go away on their own and last less than 1 day. Symptoms from bacterial infections usually begin in 1 to 5 days. They can vary in severity and last a week or longer.
- Causes. It is caused by toxins from germs growing in foods left out too long. High-risk for Staph toxins are moist food dishes using milk, eggs or meat. Examples are potato salad, egg salad, homemade ice cream, turkey dressing. Another type of toxin food poisoning is from rice dishes. A common one is fried rice. The bacterial causes of food poisoning are often from under-cooked meats. Spoiled foods are rarely the cause. This is because people know they should throw them out and not eat them.
Dogs and Cats: Prevent Infections
- Keep regular visits with your pet's vet and get them de-wormed.
- Don't let your pet lick your child's face.
- Fact: Pets have many more harmful germs in their mouths than humans. Dogs like to smell and lick other dogs, animal feces (poop), and trash.
- Don't let your child kiss a pet.
- Clean up pet waste in your yard at least 3 times weekly.
- If your pet has diarrhea, take extra steps.
- Don't clean litter boxes if you are pregnant or have a weak immune system.
Petting Zoos: Prevent Infections
- Don't take children who suck their thumb or put items in their mouths.
- Don't take pacifiers or toys with you that can become dirty with germs.
- Watch children during the visit.
- Wash hands right after the visit.
- No eating or drinking during the visit.
- What is it? Pica is a chronic habit of eating non-food items.
- Age range. 18 months to adult
- Imitator. From 6 to 18 months old, young kids tend to put things in their mouths. This is a way to explore their world using their mouths. It's normal.
- Common items. Dirt, clay, paper, ice, crayons
- Complications. Lead poisoning from eating paint chips, other poisoning, worms from eating animal poop
- Cause. Anemia (low red blood cell count) from low iron is a major cause. When iron medicine is started, pica often goes away in 1 week. Other causes are obsessive-compulsive disorder, stress or modeling a parent.
- Treatment of pica. If not due to low iron, a psychologist should be able to help.