symptoms of poisoning
By Live Dr - Tue Sep 02, 1:23 pm
Reviewed by Dr Stephen Greene, consultant paediatrician
Accidents in the home are much too common, especially since many can be avoided by taking a few simple precautions.
Some of the more serious accidents are poisoning incidents involving children. When young children explore the world, they use all their senses including taste. They typically put everything in their mouth to find out what it is. For this reason, adults must make sure that children do not have access to anything poisonous.
It is surprising just how many ordinary household articles are dangerous in this respect. To make your home safe from poisoning, examine it carefully one room at a time. Identify any potentially harmful substances and either lock them away or store them somewhere out of your children’s reach.
What is poisonous in the kitchen?
Cleaning materials are usually kept in the kitchen, often in a low cupboard under the sink where they are easily accessible to curious children. Potentially dangerous products include:
- all kinds of detergents and cleaning products, which often contain chemicals that are poisonous to children.
- plant fertilizer. This is extremely dangerous.
- detergents used in automatic dishwashers. These are highly caustic and, therefore, very dangerous if consumed.
Move these products to a locked cabinet where children cannot see or reach them. It’s not enough to simply store them on a worktop since children are excellent climbers. Buy products with childproof lids wherever possible – but lock them away nonetheless.
Never pour chemicals or detergents into empty soft drink or water bottles. Children may think the bottles still contain the original liquid.
What is poisonous in the bathroom?
Medicines, cosmetics, creams and lotions contain harmful substances (such as alcohol) that may poison a child.
Many tablets, medicines, herbal remedies and even vitamins are dangerous for children. Remember that children are less tolerant than adults and even a small quantity may be poisonous.
Always keep such items in a locked cabinet that the children do not have access to. Put any medicines back in the cabinet immediately after use.
What is poisonous in the living room?
Alcohol is very dangerous for children. Always lock cabinets containing wine and spirits – screwing down the lids tightly is not enough. Children are very good at opening things and even a small amount of alcohol can be harmful to a young child.
Remote controls for electronic equipment may contain small mercury batteries, which can cause poisoning if swallowed.
Cigarettes and tobacco are often left lying around. Tobacco, in all forms, is an extremely dangerous poison and just one cigarette stub may poison a child. All kinds of tobacco should be kept out of the reach of children.
Are plants poisonous?
Many houseplants and garden plants are poisonous if eaten.
A pharmacist can provide advice about poisonous plants. If you have small children, do not keep any poisonous houseplants – even if you place them out of reach, leaves may fall to the floor.
Plant poison often causes blisters and/or ulcers in your child’s mouth or their tongue may start swelling.
What is poisonous in the garden?
Check which of the plants growing in your garden may have leaves, berries, flowers or fruit that could poison a child.
A garden shed is likely to contain decorating materials, paint, methylated spirits, turpentine, plant fertilizer, weedkiller, barbecue fire lighters and many more substances that are all extremely poisonous. Garden sheds should be locked at all times.
When you have guests politely ask them not to leave cigarettes or medicines where your children can get their hands on them.
Be vigilant when taking your child to visit friends – particularly those who don’t have small children themselves and may not be aware of the potential hazards around their home. Find a diplomatic way to suggest that your hosts move any toxic substances to a safe place – tell them, if you like, that you’re child is particularly curious and has a tendency to open interesting-looking bottles. Keep an eye on your child at all times.
What if my child is poisoned?
Try to stay calm and call a doctor immediately. The doctor will need as much of the following information as possible.
- What did the child eat/drink? Write it down.
- How much? Find out whether it is one tablet or half a bottle.
- The doctor will ask you what the child weighs.
- If you are going to Accident & Emergency, take some of the substance that your child has eaten/drunk.
Which medicines are used?
Inactivated charcoal is often used in hospital emergency departments as an antidote in cases of poisoning. Large doses are used to prevent the poison being absorbed from the stomach. Inactivated charcoal tablets are available to buy from pharmacies, but these are for the treatment of indigestion and flatulence only and should not be used at home to treat poisoning, as the dose they contain is far too small.
For this reason you shouldn’t keep charcoal tablets as poisoning treatment in your first-aid kit. You should always consult a doctor or hospital emergency department in cases of poisoning.
In some cases of poisoning your doctor will recommend that you give your child milk. But only do this if the doctor has advised it.
Induced vomiting – or forcing your child to throw up – is necessary only in some cases of poisoning. Do it only if you know exactly what has poisoned the child and the doctor has told you to go ahead. If your child has swallowed a caustic substance it could be extremely dangerous for them to vomit, so always get medical advice first.
How can I protect my child
Although it is important to keep an eye on your children as much as you possibly can, it is simply not possible to know what they’re up to 100 per cent of the time. For this reason, when it comes to preventing poisoning, the most important and practical measure is to ensure toxic substances are completely out of reach in the first place.
Make a thorough check of your house and garden, removing any harmful products and placing them in a securely locked cabinet.
Based on a text by Dr Per Grinsted, GP