Pass it on: Visine is Dangerous

I debated whether or not to write about this, since it’s not something I particularly want to remember in detail. But if it can help anyone else, then it was worth it to put this out there.

Written on June 2, 2014:

Today started out a normal day. We said goodbye to Jake as he left for work, ate eggs and toast for breakfast and took our morning walk with Bandit. The girls played in the master bedroom while I dried my hair and then it was time for morning naps.

After an hour, Amelia got up from her nap, which was normal, but Samantha was still sleeping soundly, so I let her continue while I changed Amelia’s diaper. Samantha seemed uncharacteristically sound asleep, but after waiting twenty minutes, I decided to rouse her.

Even though she was awake, I could tell something was wrong. Normally, when she gets up, she’s smiling (or wailing loudly if she’s still tired and wants to go back down again), but this time, she still seemed half-asleep.

When I picked Samantha up, I noticed a little Visine eye drops bottle wrapped up in her blankets. It was tiny–about an inch tall– and the cap was off next to the bottle. 3/4 of the tiny bottle was gone and my stomach dropped as I realized Samantha had most likely ingested it. Since there was no child-safety cap or big huge warning label on the bottle, I decided to change Samantha’s diaper and reassess the situation in a few minutes after looking it up online and calling my doc.

As I brought her to our bedroom to change her diaper, I noticed Jake’s nightstand drawer was half-open and his glasses and cell charger had been pulled out. That’s probably where he had kept his eye drops and the girls had obviously gotten into the drawer, most likely while I had been drying my hair that morning. I had no idea they could even open the drawer.

 Samantha was sitting up, but looked dazed, with her eyes half closed and her body limp.  Something was definitely wrong. She wasn’t wiggling around, trying to get out of my grip as I changed her like she normally does. When I picked up her arm to wiggle it, it fell limply down to her side with a thud. She didn’t even show any reaction to Bandit who was right there on the bed wagging his tail. Warning bells were going off, so I took the girls down to eat in their high chairs so that l could call my ped and look it up online.

The Visine bottle was 3/4 of the way empty, but I had no idea how full it had been in the first place. Based on Samantha’s behavior, I knew however much she had ingested was definitely affecting her. Becoming increasingly scared, I called Jake and gave him the number to poison control while I called our pediatrician.

Meanwhile, Samantha was in her high chair, limply trying to pick at some cheerios. It looked like she was struggling to stay awake and her muscle control was weak. While waiting on the line for my ped, I had googled Visine ingestion. “Extremely dangerous” and “head to the hospital right away” were the first few taglines I saw.  I didn’t wait to read any further. I hung up the phone, grabbed both girls out of their high chairs, frantically secured them in their car seats, and bolted down the driveway, calling Jake on the way to tell him to meet me at the ER.

That ten minute ride to the ER was the most terrifying ten minutes of my life. Samantha’s eyes were opening and closing and her body looked listless and limp in the car seat. Trying to do anything I could to keep her awake and conscious, I had the windows open, music blaring and was reaching back with one hand to squeeze her foot, while yelling her name and looking back at her when I could.

The only thing on my mind was that she was going unconscious, slipping into a coma, or that these would be the last moments of her life. To say I was terrified would be an understatement.

 Amelia, in the other car seat, had her eyes wide open and was silent the entire time. She looked scared, but was calm. She was an amazing little trooper during the entire ordeal.

I screeched into the ER ambulance drop off, somehow grabbed both girls from their car seats, and without bothering to close any doors, burst into the ER and yelled for help. Without any hesitation, a nurse calmly led us down to the first ER room where I told the nurses and doc that Samantha had ingested an unknown amount of Visine and described her symptoms.

Until that point, I had been so focused on getting to the ER quickly and safely that I had been relatively calm. In the ER room, all that pent-up stress and fear burst into an uncontrollable sea of tears. I was pretty hysterical, so the personnel had me sit in a chair and take deep breaths, while strapping all sorts of heart rate and blood pressure monitors to Samantha, who at that point was screaming.

The ER doc rushed in and reassured me it was a good sign she was screaming, but that they still needed to do some tests. I agreed that was a vast improvement over her silence and unresponsiveness on the car ride over. I handed him the tiny bottle of Visine so that he could look up the active ingredients.

I calmed down and the nurses had me sit down on the ER bed with Samantha and hold her while they checked her oxygen, blood pressure and heart rate. She was stable, they said, but I was still so shaken up by the feeling of her limp body that I couldn’t process what anyone was saying.

Fortunately, Jake burst in at the right moment. His presence was calming and he was able to take Amelia so that I could focus all my attention on Samantha. She was alternating between falling asleep and crying, but again, it was a huge improvement over being unresponsive.

The worst part was when the nurse installed her IV– the nurse said she wouldn’t like it, and she was right. In addition to an IV in her hand, Samantha had a pulse oximeter strapped to thumb, a styrofoam board on the bottom of her arm and tape wrapped all the way up from her hand to her elbow to keep everything in place. She also had various monitors stuck to her chest to check her vitals, as well as a blood pressure cuff around her ankle. It was horrifying seeing her tiny little body with wires sticking out everywhere.

For the next hour, I held Samantha, trying to calm her down when she jolted awake, crying, while nurses came in and out to have us sign paperwork and take down our information. Once the ER docs reassured me she was stable for the time-being, they wheeled us up to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), which is where they said we would stay the day and night for observation while she recovered. The good news was that the hospital had a division of CHOC (Children’s Hospital of Orange County) where the nurse to patient ratio was 1-1 in the PICU.

As I write, Samantha is sleeping next to me on the hospital bed, Our room is spacious with a nice view of Mission Viejo. The nurses and attending physician, Dr. Goodman, have been warm and super nice. The CEO of the hospital has stopped by twice, once in the ER and once we got transferred to the PICU to say hello and see how we are doing.

There’s a Ronald McDonald family room next door with a lounge, food and tons of toys and games, which Amelia has already checked out. They have a designated nurse here whose job is to roam the PICU floor and make sure the kids are entertained. She gave Samantha some cute homemade blankets and a bunch of stuffed animals. The nurses have brought Samantha and I lots of snacks and DVDs.   They also have private sleeping rooms for parents of patients staying in the PICU with comfy beds, which is awesome for parents who have to be here long-term. I already decided I would be staying with Samantha in her room.

After checking into the PICU and getting settled in our room, Dr. Goodman, the jolliest doctor you could imagine, came by to check on us and let us know what to expect going forward. The first words out of his mouth were, “Wow! Visine? Who knew?”

He showed me a printout listing the active ingredient in Visine and what to look out for. He conveyed to us over and over how surprised he was that there was no child-proof cap or blaring warning label on the Visine. After all, it’s not a prescription drug and most people wouldn’t have known it contained a toxic substance, including him. “If people knew how toxic this was, they wouldn’t keep it in their purses or drawers. They would keep it locked up with their bleach and other toxic chemicals and medicines,” is what he told us. That’s exactly what I had been thinking.

After asking Dr. Goodman if they have some kind of “badge of shame” for parents who come in with their kid who, on their watch, has ingested some kind of poison, he laughed and told me stories of how much trouble his daughters got into when they were little. He tried to reassure me that sooner or later, kids get into something they shouldn’t or get hurt and the parents beat themselves up about it. It’s like a rite of passage for moms and dads, he said. It was nice of him to try and assuage my guilt, but it sure didn’t make me feel any less worse about how Samantha got a hold of that Visine.

Anyway, as it turns out, the active ingredient in Visine is Tetrahydrozoline HCl 0.05%. If ingested (even by adults), it can lead to symptoms including:

  • Lowering body temperature to dangerous levels
  • Making breathing difficult, or even halting it entirely
  • Blurring vision
  • Causing nausea and vomiting
  • Elevating and then dropping blood pressure
  • Causing seizures or tremors
  • Sending the ingester into a coma
  • Pretty crazy stuff. Especially since most people I’ve talked to thought Visine was just normal saline solution. Online, there are a bunch of stories of people whose kids or babies have ingested it and had the same scare as we did with Samantha, without any clue that Visine was so dangerous. 

    Clearly, Samantha never should have had the bottle and we will definitely be doing another round of toddler-proofing when we get home. Obviously, all of our household chemicals, cleaners and medicines are locked up. But I honestly never would have thought that Visine, something that people regularly keep in such accessible places as diaper bags and purses, was so dangerous. 

    Anyway, Dr. Goodman explained that we would keep Samantha hooked up to to the IV and the monitors to make sure her vitals were stable. She might have some diarrhea and nausea and would likely feel “stoned” the entire day. He expected her to make a full recovery and said he would most likely release us tomorrow (Tuesday) morning. 

    Written later that night…

    After getting set up in the PICU, Jake took Amelia home for the day to put her down for her nap and bring back some supplies (I had scurried out of the house with nothing but the girls and my purse), while I stayed with Samantha. She slept most of the day, waking a few times to eat a few small snacks, look at some books, and watch some Baby Einstein shows. Even when awake, she’s almost totally out of it, with almost no muscle control. It’s still scary, but the nurses keep reassuring me that all her vitals are normal and that she just feels “drunk.” 

     Samantha did have one good hour when Amelia came to visit in the evening. Jake and Amelia strolled in just when Samantha had woken up. Samantha broke out in the biggest smile. Amelia went waddling up to her and–no joke–gave her a huge hug. Then, when we put them together on the bed, Amelia crawled over to her sister, and put her head in her lap, smiling, while Samantha gave her another hug.  That was definitely the rainbow after the storm for us. What sweet little girls!

    Jake also told me that during the day, whenever Jake mentioned Samantha’s name, Amelia would look at him with the saddest expression. She missed her sister! 

    Amelia and Jake hung out for a bit and then left to put Amelia to bed. That was Samantha’s best part of the day–she had stayed awake for a whole hour and giggled hysterically for 15 minutes. She had a huge blow-out diaper, which we expected since the doc had told us to expect diarrhea. 

    Samantha has been asleep for a few hours, so the nurses transferred her to a wheeled crib (which looked more like a cage) in the room so that I could sleep on the pull-out bed next to her. I changed her into some pajamas and put all her favorite blankies next to her to make her more comfortable, but she still looks so forlorn sleeping in her huge “cage” all alone, with an IV and cords all over the place. Poor Samantha!

    There’s only one other patient here in the PICU, so it seems like the nurses have had a lot of downtime. In between checking on Samantha and taking her vitals, a bunch of nurses, even the ones not assigned to her, have come in to chat with me about her case. All of them have expressed their shock and surprise that Visine could do what it did to Samantha. 

    One horrified nurse told me she keeps Visine in her purse, which her toddler loves to dump out and play with, and is going to tell all her friends not to keep the stuff within a child’s reach. Another nurse told me she’s surprised she doesn’t see more teenagers admitted to the hospital after spiking drinks with Visine or using it as a drug. Clearly, the toxic effects of Visine are not well-known or advertised. 

    Online, there are some stories of teenagers who have spiked their teacher’s or friend’s drink since one of the side-effects is diarrhea. Instead, their “pranks” have sent the victims to the hospital with severe vomiting and CNS shut-down. If a tiny amount of Visine could do that to an adult, it’s amazing that something worse didn’t happen to Samantha. 

    Written the next day, June 3, 2014: 

    Samantha slept all evening and finally awoke at midnight. I was asleep, but woke up when she started making noise, and sat up to see Samantha sitting straight up in her “cage,” looking directly at me and smiling. I changed her diaper, which was so wet so that she had soiled her blankets and pajamas. Since she was clearly getting enough fluids, the nurse took out her IV. 

    She seemed chipper and back to her normal self. I didn’t care that it was midnight and that I was exhausted–I was so happy to see her alert and back to normal. I picked her up and held her, letting her drink some milk, until she fell back asleep at 1:30 a.m. 

    She woke up again around 3:30 a.m., but went back to sleep quickly until 6 a.m. when she got up for the morning. I had just grabbed the phone to text Jake that Samantha was up, but while I was typing, I received a text from him that said Amelia had just woken up. Chalk it up to the “twin connection.” 

    I later called Jake, who asked for an update on how Samantha had done during the night. When I told him she had awoken happily and energetically at midnight, he said, “That’s so weird. That’s exactly when Amelia woke up too. She was hyper and I had a hard time putting her back to sleep.” Definitely a twin connection thing!

    When Samantha woke up that morning, it was like night and day from the day before. Samantha was back! She woke up jabbering away, smiling, laughing and full of energy. It was suddenly weird to have to hold her arms and legs down while changing her diaper since the day before, she had been completely limp. 

    It was great to have to contain a wiggly Samantha once again, instead of cradling a limp baby. She was excited to eat her breakfast, watch the TV and play with her new doll and stuffed animals. Now that she was energetic, it was difficult to entertain her since she was still hooked up to all the monitors and had to stay in my lap or in her “cage.” Luckily, the nurses brought in a bunch of toys for her to play with in her crib and everyone was happy to see Samantha back to her normal self. 

    Amelia and Jake came later that morning and it was so cute to witness the girls’ happy reunion. They giggled and hugged like they had the day before. We put Amelia in the crib with Samantha and they started to wrestle, with the nurses standing by, watching and laughing. 

    Dr. Goodman dropped by and told us it looked like Samantha was ready to go home. I was concerned about any long-term organ or brain damage, but he said there weren’t any known long-term effects. “We hope to never see you here again,” he told us jokingly when we were ready to discharge. Me too. 

    For some reason, it took hours for the nurses to finally discharge us after Dr. Goodman gave us the go-ahead, and in the meantime, the girls were extremely cranky, having skipped their morning nap. Other than that, Samantha seemed totally back to normal. I will take cranky over unresponsive any day. 

    Once all the adrenaline from the past 24 hours dissipated, I felt pretty drained, but was so relieved to have our Sammy Girl back in action that I didn’t care. 

    While still shaken from this scary experience, Jake and I are grateful something worse didn’t happen. Obviously, the Visine eye drops are now locked away in our medicine cabinets and we’re doing another round of baby-proofing. 

    The experience also served as a reminder for me that the girls can get into something they shouldn’t within seconds, even if I’m right there– I had literally been no more than ten feet away from the girls at all times during the morning that Samantha ingested the Visine. I had my back turned for maybe a few seconds, but she still managed to grab it at some point without my knowledge. 

    Spread the word that Visine, while commonly viewed as simply a harmless saline solution,  contains an extremely toxic ingredient. Too many babies and children have already been hurt by this hazardous substance. Amazingly, the company has taken no steps to warn people of its toxicity, beyond the standard “keep out of reach of children/seek medical attention” fine print that’s pretty standard (and therefore meaningless) on everything now days. 

    Visine should not be kept anywhere near low-lying drawers, cabinets, bags or anywhere else where babies or children could find it.  Share this information about Visine with any parents of small children you know. I have posted Samantha’s story here to be shared in the hopes that this doesn’t happen to anyone else. 

    On the more positive side, here are a few happy photos!

    During lunch when we arrived home from the hospital, Samantha and Amelia held hands almost the entire time they were eating:  

    Samantha was excited to resume torturing her sister once again:  
    Amelia was happy to oblige. 

    So glad you’re back! I missed you!

    Love you, sis. 

    Kisses!

    Lots of love, 

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    Comments

    1. OH my goodness, Becca! How terrifying! I sat here reading this with my jaw dropped. I wanted to cry for you! I've spent my fair share of days in the hospital, but I've (thankfully) never had to take my kids there. I don't know how I'd handle it. I'm SO GLAD everything is ok. And your girls hugging is just about the most darling thing I've ever seen.

      • Thank you for your kind words 🙂 Yes, it was a horrible experience to say the least. I am happy that you've never had to go to the hospital with your kids. I still can't imagine having to be there hooked up to IVs and such as much as you have though! I'm sure that must be so draining and boring! I was only there one day and was going crazy!

    2. Anonymous says:

      HOW TERRIFYING !!!! GLAD TO SEE SHE IS DOING OK – LOVE AUNT LINDA & UNCLE DAVID