Dr Claudine DeMunter
Help - I have an Emergency?
Inquisitive kids will try to eat anything - the good, the bad and the poisonous! What to do?
About half of incidents reported to poison-control centres involve children less than 6 years old and the ingestion of household substances such as cosmetics, plants, washing machine powders, dish-washing detergents, toilet cleaners, odour deterrents, nail polish remover, glue, cleaning supplies, alcohol, gasoline, antifreeze, fertiliser, pesticides, paint, windshield-washing fluid, plants... These are ingested by small children who are inquisitive and tasting is an important way of discovering. Other children either bored or in stressful environments, find this a way of attracting attention. Accidental poisonings also include the taking of adult’s medications that can look like sweets for the child. All these substances are highly toxic and knowing how to prevent accidental poisonings and what to do in case of one is important.
Noticing an accidental ingestion:
An open container or bottle or a pack of pills may attract your attention. Depending on what has been ingested, look for the following signs that may tell you if the substance has been ingested and if there are already some side effects: burns or redness in or around the mouth (due to a caustic), breath that smells like chemicals, burns, stains and smells on skin and clothes, vomiting, poor feeding, palpitations, pain in the chest, coughing, difficulty breathing, sleepiness, confusion or other strange behaviour, seizures, unconsciousness.
If your child is awake and breathing sufficiently well:
Do not try to induce vomit by any means as the substance may cause further harm as it comes out. Make sure you go immediately to the Accident & Emergency Department (A&E) and do not forget to bring as much information as possible on what you think your child swallowed, when and how much. It helps if you take the bottle that contains the poisonous substance. The sooner you go to A&E the better as signs can develop several hours later, depending on the substance ingested and the sooner the intoxication is dealt with, the less likely there will be serious consequences.
If your child is listless, having seizures or having difficulty breathing:
Call 999 immediately and place your child in a ‘recovery position’, head turned sideways with the chin lifted to ensure breathing is protected and that if he/she did vomit, this would fall out of the mouth.
How to reduce risks of childhood poisoning:
Obtain the dosing instructions for medicines from doctors in millilitres (mL) and be sure to read information carefully first. Store all medications and dangerous substances out of reach and in childproof cabinets. Be careful about visitors who may not be thinking about the risks particularly if they are on medications. Wherever possible, buy products in child resistant containers with safety caps. Dispose of unwanted medicines and chemicals safely in a closed container that your child can't get into. Avoid buying plants with poisonous leaves or berries or those that can irritate the skin.