Children are curious. They love to explore and as anyone with a small child will tell you, they love to put things in their mouths.

They also like to copy adults and this might include “taking medicine”. Of course, they don’t understand the dangers that some products pose so it’s up to us to protect them.

Sadly, unintentional poisoning is a major cause of injury and a visit to an emergency department for Australian children. And the group most at risk? Kids under five years and particularly those aged one to three.

Parents of young children are typically super vigilant so an accidental poisoning can be very upsetting. Not surprisingly, most child poisonings happen when little people are unsupervised, even for just a few moments. We need to ensure everyday products that can cause harm are well and truly out of reach.

Keep ‘out of reach’

Here are a few common substances involved in childhood poisoning:

  • Prescription medication including:
    • Antidepressants
    • Oral contraceptive pills
    • Blood pressure drugs
  • Over the counter products
  • Cleaning products including:
    • Dishwasher tablets and powders
    • Toilet bowl cleaners
    • Eucalyptus oil
    • Bleaches
  • Nail polish remover
  • Rat and mouse poison, pesticides and fertilisers.

Small children aren’t the only group at risk, according to Dr Ron Sultana, Director of Emergency Medicine at Epworth Richmond. “Over-the-counter pain-killers, such as paracetamol, are involved in a large number of accidental or deliberate self-poisonings in older age groups, with more people calling drug information centres about paracetamol than any other drug. Liver failure and death are unusual, but paracetamol remains the most important single cause of acute liver failure in Western countries.”

When to call 000

If the child shows the following symptoms, call an ambulance:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Drowsiness
  • Agitation
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Shallow, erratic or no breathing

Some poisons are highly toxic and only a small amount can cause serious problems including:

  • Fits (seizures)
  • Respiratory or cardiac arrests (when the breathing or heart stops)
  • Unconsciousness (coma) or death

A visit to Emergency is always advised if you are worried, according to Dr Sultana.

First aid for poisoning

  • If you think a child has ingested a drug or taken an overdose and the situation is not urgent to require a 000 call, call the Poison Information Centre, even if they seem okay. The centre is open 24 hours a day, every day, Australia-wide. Poisons Information Centre Phone 13 11 26. For translation and interpreting services call 13 14 50
  • Don’t try to make the child vomit
  • Keep the medication container(s) handy for identification

14 December 2018

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