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Senior Correspondent

Q: I find the bottles under my kitchen sink confusing. What do all the warnings mean? 

A: Many of the household products we use contain poisons. These include pesticides, oven cleaners, detergents, polish, paint, and drain un-cloggers.

Manufacturers use a low-medium-high system on labels to alert you to hazards. The following are brief descriptions:

  • Caution means the contents could hurt you. For example, the product’s fumes might make you sick.
  • Warning means you could be injured seriously if you don’t handle the product properly. A “warning” on a label can mean that the contents are flammable.
  • Danger indicates that you should handle the product with extreme care, because it can be lethal. A possible explosion is among the hazards that require a danger label.

If you have an emergency with a household product, here are some steps you can take. The order of the steps depends upon the severity of the problem.

  1. Call 911.
  2. Call your poison control center at 800-222-1222.
  3. Read the label for instructions and an emergency phone number.

The following are some general first-aid instructions:

  •  If you get a poison onto your skin or in your eyes, rinse the affected area in the shower for at least 15 minutes.
  •  If you inhale toxic fumes, get to fresh air immediately.
  •  If poison is swallowed, do not use an emetic medicine such as syrup of ipecac to induce vomiting. Doctors no longer recommend using these medicines because there is no evidence they prevent poisons from entering the bloodstream.

And now for some tips to prevent exposure to dangerous substances:

  •  Don’t keep flammable products inside your home.
  •  Check household products regularly for loose caps.
  •  Keep products in their original containers; this prevents confusion and keeps the labels around for reference.
  •  Don’t store toxic household products near food or medicine.
  •  Never throw these products in the trashcan where children can get to them. Call your local government to find out where you can dispose of these products properly.

The following is some information about the dangers in common household products:

  •  Paint can irritate the eyes and skin. Paint fumes can give you headaches, nausea and dizziness.
  • Clothes detergents, if ingested, can cause nausea, vomiting, shock, convulsions, and coma.
  • Ammonia fumes can irritate eyes and lungs. Never mix ammonia with chlorine bleach because the combination produces a potentially lethal gas.
  • Oven cleaners that contain lye can burn you and are potentially fatal if swallowed.
  • Spray cleaners pose a threat to your lungs.
  • Toilet bowl cleaners rely on acids that can burn.
  • Mold removers can cause breathing problems.
  • Drain cleaners contain lye and sulfuric acid that can blind you if they splash in your eyes.
  • Carpet cleaners that contain perchloroethylene cause dizziness, sleepiness, nausea, loss of appetite and disorientation. Carpet cleaners that use naphthalene can damage your liver.
  • Furniture polish is an irritant that, if ingested, can cause nausea and vomiting.
  • Air fresheners contain chemicals that can irritate skin and eyes, cause fatal lung problems and brain damage. They can be highly flammable, too.
  • Mothballs can cause headaches, dizziness, irritation, cataract formation and liver damage.
  • Weed killers can irritate the eyes and skin, and cause vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Insect repellents can depress the central nervous system and cause forms of mental illness.
  • Rat killers contain warfarin, a blood-thinner, that if swallowed in large quantities can cause internal bleeding.

To read more, order a copy of How to be a Healthy Geezer at www.healthygeezer.com.

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