Kerosene and Kids Don't Mix

Hydrocarbon poisonings and injuries in kids declining overall but the summer is highest

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) You know them by the names propane, methane, butane, octane and other "anes." These hydrocarbons are in most homes and can pose serious risks to little children.

A recent study found that poisonings and injuries from hydrocarbons are higher in the summertime for young kids. In fact, several thousand happen each year.

Common hydrocarbon products in the home include gasoline, lighter fluid and kerosene.

Little children, especially toddlers, may swallow these poisons and end up in the hospital.

"Keep household chemicals away from kids."

The study, led by Heath A. Jolliff, DO, of the Central Ohio Poison Center and Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, looked at how common injuries related to hydrocarbons were among kids aged 5 and younger.

The researchers looked at the information for all injuries related to hydrocarbons reported to the National Poison Data System and the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System from the beginning of 2000 through the end of 2009.

They focused on calls related to children no older than 5 and found 65,756 calls in the National Poison Data System.

The National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, which relates to injuries resulting in a hospital visit, showed an estimated 40,158 emergency department visits that were related to injuries from hydrocarbons.

The four categories of injuries included poisoning, chemical burns, dermatitis (inflammation of the skin) and then all other injuries.

Over the ten years studied, however, both calls to poison centers and emergency department visits decreased. The rate in 2000 was 19.5 hydrocarbon-related ER visits out of every 100,000 visits, which dropped to 13.8 ER visits out of every 100,000 in 2009.

Most of the kids injured or involved in the poison control calls had swallowed the hydrocarbons, with just over half the poison control calls and 76 percent of the ER visits related to drinking hydrocarbons.

The two most common bodily systems injured by the exposure were the pulmonary (lungs) and the gastrointestinal systems, followed by the eyes.

Most of the injuries also occurred at the children's homes: 96 percent of the poison control calls and 88 percent of the ER visits were from a home event.

However, most injuries did not require the kid to be hospitalized. Overall, 13 percent of the ER visits resulted in the child being admitted to the hospital.

The kids involved were mostly aged 1 to 2, and two thirds were boys.

"Hydrocarbons typically have a sweetish smell to them, making them very tempting to a young child," said dailyRx expert Thomas Seman, MD, a pediatrician at North Shore Pediatrics in Danvers, Mass.

"These items should be kept in proper containers. Unfortunately, this is not always the case," he said. "Children are very curious. They learn through experience and are always trying to experience more. Careful consideration of where an adult stores any product should be made at all times."

Dr. Seman noted that the possible effects of a child swallowing hydrocarbons go beyond the potential harm to the child.

"The regret and distress of the parent could be worse than the potential injury to the child," Dr. Seman said. "This alone can cause significant strife in the family and between the parents as well altering the family dynamics."

The most common time of the year for injuries or calls was in the summer months, when almost twice as many occurred as in the winter months.

Summertime is the time of the year when more families are using the grill or barbecue outside. These grills often use hydrocarbons, such as propane.

The most common hydrocarbon involved, though, was gasoline, especially when parents were refueling their cars. The hydrocarbons most associated with hospitalization were kerosene, lighter fluid and lamp oil.

Other common hydrocarbons include lubricating oils, mineral seal oil and turpentine.

The researchers acknowledged that the decline in injuries was good news but that more can be done. The researchers noted in their paper that hydrocarbons are among the top 10 causes of poisoning deaths for kids in the US.

"Although cases have declined, most likely due to existing prevention efforts, hydrocarbons are still a large source of preventable exposure and injury in children," the researchers wrote.

The study was published May 6 in the journal Pediatrics. The research did not receive external funding, and the authors reported no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 4, 2013
Last Updated:
August 13, 2013