Allergy Drops and Young Kids: Dangerous Combo

Common nasal, eye drops toxic if swallowed

Allergy eye drops can be a health risk if injested.

With allergy season in full swing, many of us keep eye drops and nasal sprays close at hand — in the car, in our purses and by the nightstand — to treat our itchy eyes and stuffy noses.

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Medications can result in death if ingested

But most of these allergy drops and sprays are not packaged with child-safe tops, and if a young child ingests as little as one milliliter of the fluid — that’s one-fifth of a teaspoon — he can experience severe health effects, such as decreased heart rate or breathing, lethargy, coma or even death.

That’s why I remind parents to take as much precaution with eye drops and nose sprays as they do with any other medications. I tell parents:

  • Store eye and nose drops with caution. Keep them in a high or locked cabinet and out of pockets and purses where kids might explore. “Up and away and out of sight” is the phrase we use to remind parents about safely storing their medications.
  • Ask visitors to put purses and coats out of reach. People may not think of their eye and nose drops as medications the way they might realize if medications are in pill form. Be sure to store their personal items so your children can’t reach them.  

Why eye and nose drops are so dangerous

Here’s why these substances are so dangerous. When eye drops and nasal sprays are properly used, they shrink our blood vessels, helping to reduce the swelling and irritation in our eyes and noses.

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When they’re ingested, these substances do the same thing as they travel the circulatory system. The constriction of blood vessels in a kid’s body can wreak havoc on their hearts, lungs and digestive systems.

The compounds that make eye drops and nose sprays so poisonous to ingest are called tetrahydrozoline, oxymetazoline or naphazoline. Check the list of active ingredients on the bottle to see if your brand contains these compounds. You can also see the full list of brands containing these substances on the Food and Drug Administration’s website.

Why these meds appeal to young kids

Kids age 5 and younger are the ones most at risk, not only because they’re more apt to get into your medications, but also because their smaller bodies amplify the harmful effects.

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Eye drops and nasal sprays aren’t just easy to get into, they’re also enticing. The salty taste of an eye drop appeals to kids’ taste buds, and the nasal sprays resemble “spray candy” that tempts them in the grocery aisles.

With a little precaution, you can get through allergy season while keeping your symptoms under control and your kids safe.

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Emma Raizman, MD

Emma Raizman, MD, is a pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic Children's who enjoys working with families and children, from newborns to adolescents.
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