85% of Childhood Poisoning occur when the parent or caregiver are with the child but not paying attention. Between the ages of one and three years, toddlers are extremely prone to accidental poisoning.
The best way to prevent your child from swallowing something dangerous is to simply poison-proof your home.
Children explore their environment as part of their normal, natural development, they learn about new things by playing with them – trying to open containers, mimicking what they see siblings or adults do, putting things in their mouth and so on.
Young children do not know the difference between what is safe and what is dangerous. Parents and caregivers must take responsibility for making the home safe for children.
Common Poisons around the Home
Many medications and everyday household items can be poisonous, including:
- Medicines – such as pain-relieving medication, diabetes medicines, iron tablets, sedatives, heart and blood pressure tablets
- Cleaning products – such as bleaches, dishwasher powders, oven cleaners, drain cleaners, methylated spirits and turpentine
- Other household products – such as essential oils, pesticides, herbicides, some car products and gardening products
- Poisonous plants and mushrooms – such as oleander. Some plants with berries and coloured leaves, which are attractive to children, may be harmful.
Symptoms of Poisoning
If your child has suffered significant poisoning, any symptoms that develop will depend on a number of factors, such as which medicine or chemical is involved, how much the child has been exposed to, the child’s age, etc.
- Burns or redness around the mouth (a sign your child drank something caustic)
- Breath that smells like chemicals
- Burns, stains and smells on your child, the clothes or elsewhere in the house
- Vomiting, difficulty breathing, sleepiness, confusion or other strange behaviour
- Tummy Pain
Treatment for Poisoning
If you SUSPECT a child has been exposed to a poison – whether swallowed, spilt on the skin, splashed in the eye or inhaled – or if a child has been given the wrong medicine or wrong dose of medicine, DO NOT WAIT FOR SYMPTOMS TO OCCUR, but phone your nearest Poison Information Centre immediately (0861 555 777).
If the child or anyone else has collapsed, stopped breathing, is having a fit or is suffering an anaphylactic reaction, immediately call for an ambulance.
Do not try to make the child vomit. This can do more harm than good.
The Poison Information Centre (0861 555 777) will get a brief history from you about what happened and will provide the appropriate advice. Many poisoning exposures in children are mild and can be safely managed at home.
Different types and methods of poisoning require different, immediate treatment:
- Swallowed poison: Take the item away from the child, and have the child spit out any remaining substance. Do not make your child vomit
- Skin poison: Remove the child’s clothes and rinse the skin with lukewarm water for at least 15 minutes
- Eye poison: Flush the child’s eye by holding the eyelid open and pouring a steady stream of room temperature water into the inner corner for 15 minutes
- Poisonous fumes: Take the child outside or into fresh air immediately. If the child has stopped breathing, start cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and do not stop until the child breathes on his or her own, or until someone can take over.
You may be advised to take your child to your local doctor or hospital.
Possible further treatment in Hospital:
If your child requires a trip to hospital, treatment there may include:
- blood tests
- activated charcoal (to bind some medications so the body can’t absorb them)
- an antidote (for some poisons)
- admission for close observation
- repeat tests.
Poison-proofing your Home
The best way to prevent your child from swallowing something dangerous is to simply poison-proof your home. Here are the steps you can take to protect your child:
- Have the Poison Information Centre number (0861 555 777) near every phone at home, and program it into your cell phone
- Check your home to make sure that all poisoning risks have been removed. Ask other people who care for your child, such as grandparents, to do the same
- Store all medicines in a locked cabinet. If you carry medicines in your handbag, make sure the bag is kept out of reach of children
- Don’t throw medications away in open trash containers where your toddler or mobile baby can get to them. Follow the disposal instructions on the medication’s label, but make sure it’s disposed in a closed container that your child can’t get into
- Store cleaning or gardening products, and household chemicals out of children’s reach, preferably locked away
- Store poisons out of reach and out of sight, including those stored in the refrigerator, particularly if it is a brightly coloured liquid
- Don’t underestimate a child’s ability to climb and reach things
- Check that the child-resistant cap is working on medicine and cleaning containers, and make sure the cap is shut properly after use
- Avoid taking medicines in front of your children (they may think you are having something nice and copy you)
- Never refer to medicines as ‘sweets’
- Never transfer chemicals or cleaning products to another container, especially food or drink containers
- If you use an e-cigarette, keep the liquid nicotine refills locked up out of children’s reach and only buy refills that use child resistant packaging. Ingestion or skin exposure with just a small amount of the liquid can be fatal to a child.