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Beware of the dangers of torch fuels

Kevin Osterhoudt, MD, warns us about the potential dangers of ingesting torch fuels used for fuel patio torches or decorative candles.

Today's guest blogger is Kevin Osterhoudt, MD, MSCE, FAAP, FACMT, emergency medicine attending physician and medical director of the Poison Control Center at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and associate professor of pediatrics, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. For updates and more information, go to Poison Control Center's Facebook page.

Ingestion of torch fuels, often used in the summertime to fuel patio torches or decorative candles, can lead to severe injury. The good news is that you can prevent this predictable summertime hazard before this year's celebrations of the unofficial start to summer – the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

Already in May, The Poison Control Center at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia has taken five calls about potentially toxic exposures to these lamp oils. Two toddlers were hospitalized, one in an intensive care unit; and one adult drank some of the oil by mistake. The other two cases involved children playing with the bottle, which led to spilling or splashing the contents on the skin and face.

Torch fuels, also called lamp oils, often come in bottles that can easily be mistaken for apple juice or another drink, especially by curious young children incapable of reading warning labels, and are often used around tables where food and drink are served. Ingestion of small amounts of these hydrocarbon chemicals can cause excessive drowsiness, lung injury, difficulty breathing, and even death.

The Poison Control Center suggests that families consider use of alternative types of decorative lighting and keep liquid torch fuels out of their homes. If used, here are some tips to prevent poisoning injury from citronella torch fuels:

  1. Never use torch fuels or lamp oils near an area where food or drink might be served.

  2. Store torch fuels out of reach, out of sight, and out of mind of young children.

  3. Make sure to only buy bottles of torch fuel with a child-resistant cap, and make sure to replace the cap securely after each use.

If you are concerned about a potentially toxic exposure to torch fuels, or to any other medicine or chemical, remember that you may call The Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 for immediate assistance and advice.

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