Hazards in a handbag
Think about how much fun a toddler might have exploring inside a purse, especially their parent’s. What likely started as a cute carrier with a few essentials before (pre-children), may have evolved into a dependable warehouse equipped to anticipate the needs of an entire family. For example:
Medications. Virtually every purse carried by an adult contains some type of medication. Over the course of my career, toddlers have ingested iron tablets and ibuprofen, which can result in renal failure; acetaminophen, which can lead to liver failure and coma; other pain meds such as hydrocodone, causing opioid overdose; and birth control pills, which prompts breast growth that is hard to explain for a 3-year-old. These children recovered, but a 2-year-old patient who found her grandmother’s heart pills did not. It took the girl seven days to die, and all we could do was walk that path with her.
Cosmetics. Lotions and cosmetics are another purse staple. Between 2002-2016, 64,686 children less than five years of age were seen in emergency departments for cosmetic related injuries. That is about 1 every 2 hours. Roughly 75% were ingestions (swallowed) and 19 percent were eye related. The top three culprits were nail polish, hair care products and skin care products.
Tobacco products. Cigarettes, nicotine gum and liquid nicotine for e-cigarettes or vaping devices carried in purses are a serious risk for children if ingested.
“These children recovered, but a 2-year-old patient who found her grandmother’s heart pills did not. It took the girl seven days to die, and all we could do was walk that path with her.”
hygiene products. Especially during flu season, travel size hand sanitizers are a common find in purses. These, along with other personal
hygiene products such as mouthwash, often contain concentrated alcohol,
which can have toxic effects. Toothpaste can be dangerous to young
children, too. Used in small amounts to brush teeth, it prevents tooth
day, but when swallowed it can be toxic.
hazards. Chewing gum, breath mints and cough drops often kept in purses
can become lodged in a young child’s throat. Coins found in a wallet
are also choking hazards and can seriously damage the digestive tract. The same goes for button batteries inside car key fobs.
In some states, including my own, it’s not uncommon for people to carry
guns and other weapons in purses. Heartbreaking news reports in recent
years describe young children discovering a gun in a family member’s
purse and shooting themselves and others.
pediatricians, we advise families on keeping kids safe from common
hazards found in the home. We should also remind them to keep potential
hazards inside purses well out of reach of young children. The same
holds true for those increasingly stylish backpacks, briefcases and
diaper bags. Killer fashion should always be a metaphor.
* The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and not necessarily those of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Eric Owen Tyler, MD, FAAP, an executive board member for the American Academy of Pediatrics Alabama Chapter, is a pediatrician with Pediatric Associates in Alexander City, Alabama.