Since it's not too cold yet, children are still able to spend more time playing outside. As a result, they have more opportunities to get into, and eat, things they shouldn't. In this month's blog, we wanted to address some common outdoor exposures that we hear about throughout the fall.
Late autumn is mushroom season, and mushroom foraging is becoming increasingly popular. Fall rains cause mushrooms to spring up all over the place, and although they're delicious, it can be very difficult, even for experts, to differentiate between a toxic mushroom and an edible one. As you can imagine, children have it even tougher!
Two of the most dangerous mushrooms we have to worry about in our area, belong to the Amanitin family, and are known as the "death cap" mushroom, and the "destroying angel." Both types can be confused with edible mushrooms, especially in their earliest stages of development. If left untreated, toxins from both of these mushrooms can lead to kidney and liver failure, and can ultimately be fatal. It's very important to teach your children not to eat anything they may find outside, even if it looks like something they may see at the grocery store.
Children come across all kinds of insects while playing outside. While most are relatively harmless, there are two in particular that we seem to get a lot of calls about around this time of year.
Stink bugs: These sneaky little creatures get their name from their ability to give off a foul-smelling odor for protection when they're under stress. As the weather gets colder, they often seek shelter inside garages or attics, and eventually end up in the main part of the house, hanging out on walls, nestled under the couch, or sometimes even hidden away in the toy box. Toddlers are prone to putting everything in their mouth, including stink bugs, but not to worry! Although the odor is pungent, and the bug likely tastes equally terrible, it is not toxic, and will cause nothing more than the classic yucky face on your child. Think of it as an extra source of protein!
Caterpillars: They can really pique a child's curiosity. They're small and often fuzzy, and because you can hold them in the palm of your hand, they must be safe and friendly, right? Wrong. These critters may look harmless, but don't be fooled: The spines of a caterpillar can cause pain, itching, a burning sensation, and even lead to blisters. In rare, more severe cases, some can even cause systemic symptoms such as asthma-like symptoms, muscle spasms and seizures. Make sure your children know that caterpillars are to be looked at, but not touched.
We regularly get calls from spring through fall about various plant-related exposure. As a general rule, it requires a lot of plant material to cause significant toxicity, and someone has to really know what they're doing to get fatally ill from it. Everyday plants such as grass, tree leaves, and wild strawberries are never a problem, but there are some plants that pose heightened cause for concern.
Pokeweed: Less than 10 berries from a pokeweed plant is generally considered nontoxic. However, ingestion of these little, purple berries may cause nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, or cramping, and foamy diarrhea.
Holly: Symptoms are unlikely to occur with ingestion of less than three berries, but more than that can cause significant nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Calla/peace lilies: Although eating a leaf or two off of one of these plants is not toxic, they do contain tiny, needle-like crystals known as oxalates, which can cause pain and irritation when chewing. This can result in swelling of the lips and tongue, as well as difficulty swallowing.
These are just some of the most common plants we hear about on a daily basis, but you can learn more about poisonous and nonpoisonous plants and berries by visiting our website. As a general rule, try to keep young children away from plants with yummy-looking berries, and instruct them not to eat anything they find outside.
As always, if you suspect that your child has eaten something they weren't supposed to, please don't hesitate to call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222, and a specially trained pharmacist or nurse will be happy to answer your questions.
Blair Thornley, PharmD, is a Certified Specialist in Poison Information at the Poison Control Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.