Poison and harmful substances

Whether it’s colorful tablets on the dresser or chemicals under the sink, curious toddlers can come into contact with poison and harmful substances within our homes. Find out what you can do to keep your children safe and prevent accidents.

Some of the more serious accidents that children become involved in are poisoning incidents. Inquisitive children at 3-4 years of age are unable to discern the difference between what might be an exciting and tasty sweet and a powerful medication in the form of a pill. Similarly, a toxic fluid in a plastic container might appear to be an interesting new fruit juice. For this reason, parents should always make sure that poisonous substances are kept well out of their children’s reach or access.

What do I do if my child has swallowed a non-edible substance?

If your child swallows something potentially poisonous, you need to act swiftly to minimise the risk of injury. Your first actions should be to:

  • Make your child spit out any residual substance that might be in their mouths
  • Move any of the remaining unswallowed substance out of reach
  • Keep a sample of the substance for identification purposes (or the container)
  • Call the emergency services – if you have information on what the substance is, inform them, as they can pass this information on to the local poisons’ centre or emergency department.

What if my child has swallowed medication not prescribed for them?

If your child has swallowed prescription or over-the-counter medication that was not prescribed for them (or has taken an overdose of medication that was prescribed for them) you should keep the container handy so that you can provide all the necessary information, such as drug name and strength, to medical personnel. If you have an idea of how many pills there were in the bottle, you can estimate the number your child could have swallowed by counting the remainder in the bottle.


What are the signs of serious poisoning?

Signs and symptoms of serious poisoning include the following:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Severe throat pain
  • Burns on the lips or mouth
  • Convulsions (fits)
  • Drowsiness
  • Unconsciousness

If you observe any of the above, you need to inform the emergency services’ operator who may keep you on the line to assist you in maintaining your child’s safety. DO NOT try to make your child vomit, as if they have swallowed a corrosive substance, making them vomit can cause further injuries by bringing the burning substance back up into their throat and mouth.

What if my child gets poison on his skin?

Remove any clothing and rinse the affected area of skin with lukewarm water. If the skin looks burned, blistered or inflamed, continue rinsing for at least 15 minutes and call the doctor or emergency number for immediate medical assistance.

What if my child gets something toxic in their eye?

In the event of your child getting something in their eye, you should immediately flush the eye with lukewarm water and prevent them from rubbing the area. This may prove difficult, as your child may be quite distressed and reluctant to have their eye opened against running water. Another adult can help you support your child, if available. Flush the eye by pouring lukewarm water gently into the inner corner, whilst encouraging your child to blink. Continue flushing for 15 minutes  and then call the doctor or emergency number for medical assistance.

What if my child breathes in toxic fumes?

If your child has become exposed to toxic vapours, you should remove them to fresh air as quickly as possible. If they aren’t breathing, you need to get help if you are on your own and then start cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) immediately. If someone else is available, get them to call the emergency services. If you’re alone, perform CPR for one minute and then call the emergency operator for medical assistance. Continue  CPR immediately and continue until help arrives or your child begins breathing on his own.

If your child has been exposed to toxic fumes but doesn’t seem to be affected by it, call your doctor or emergency room at your hospital to discuss whether any medical attention is needed.

How can I prevent poisonings?

Over half of all incidences of poisoning occur among children under 6 years of age, with nine out of ten cases happening at home. The most common household poisons are, cleaning supplies, medication, cosmetics, personal care products and plants. To effectively poison-proof your house, you should:

  • Keep all potential household poisons under lock and key and out of your child’s reach.
  • Never store potentially harmful products in the same storage area as food
  • Buy medicines with child-resistant caps and don’t decant the medicine from this bottle to another one that has a regular screw cap
  • Never put harmful substances into any containers that might look like they contain something to eat or drink, such as empty soda bottles
  • Supervise your child when they are using potentially toxic substances, such as paints, glues and felt markers. An episode of poisoning can occur through something as seemingly innocuous as putting a marker in their mouths and sucking.
  • Take extra care if your child has had a previous poisoning incident, as those who have had one episode  are more likely to have another

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