Back to school is an exciting time filled with school supplies, friends, routines and environments. While all this newness is great, it's also a hectic time, which can lead to mishaps both at home and at school. The good news? Many of the poisoning exposures and injuries that we treat at the Poison Control Center are preventable.

School supplies

Parents should remind their young children that markers, crayons, glue, glitter, and other school supplies belong on paper, not in their mouths. Young children should always be supervised when using these supplies because they can easily be splashed into the eyes, swallowed, or spilled onto skin. Older children often ingest or inhale these items because of dares from peers or pranks on teachers. The best way for parents to help prevent this is to have open and honest conversations with their children about the risks of abusing these items and the importance of not giving in to peer pressure.


The majority of poisonings in the U.S. involve medication. Medication in backpacks and lunchboxes can be dangerous not only to your children, but also to their schoolmates. Medications left out on the breakfast counter or transferred into unlabeled bottles can be dangerous for everyone in your home. If your child has to take a medication at school, find out the school's policy on bringing and administering medication and follow it.

At home, store the medications out of sight and reach from your children. It can be helpful to have a schedule or checklist in a visible place, such as on the refrigerator, where adults can mark when they have administered the correct dose. In addition, it can be helpful to ask your child's doctor in advance about what to do about missed or doubled doses.

Cleaning supplies

Monitor children when they are around cleaning supplies. Sprayed keyboard duster or bleach aerosols can be accidentally inhaled or intentionally abused. Abuse of these inhalants can lead to intoxication as well as abnormal heart rhythms. Hand sanitizer is a potentially toxic fluid that is readily available in the classroom and at home. While hand-washing is an extremely important preventive measure for infection control, some kids will drink these alcohol-containing fluids,  leading to intoxication, vomiting, and even coma.

Outdoor hazards

During recess, sporting events, and other outdoor activities, children should never be allowed to play with or eat plants, berries, flowers or mushrooms. Children should never handle or self apply pesticides and insect repellents, and insect repellent should never be applied to children's hands. When returning indoors, wash children's hands with soap and water.

Accidents happen. Keep your child as safe as possible by taking the steps to reduce the risk of poisoning. The best way for teachers and caregivers to be prepared in the event of any poisoning emergency is to save the contact information for poison control in a smartphones. Poison control experts are available to provide treatment advice 24 hours a day, 365 days a year including holidays. If you or someone you know has been exposed to a potentially harmful substance, call the poison control helpline at 1-800-222-1222.

Marci Fornari, MD, a senior resident at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, wrote this in conjunction with Children's Poison Control Center.