Suspected poisoning is one of the most common reasons for young children to be taken to A&E. Did you know…?
- Child-resistant tops and strip and blister packs for tablets help to slow children down but they are not childproof. Some 3-4 year olds can open them in seconds!
- Swallowing medicines, like everyday painkillers that you might keep in your handbag or bedside cabinet, is the most common way for children to be poisoned.
- The detergent capsules and concentrated liquids under the kitchen sink can harm children too – they can cause accidental poisoning but also squirt into the eyes and cause damage. The capsules come in boxes that aren’t child-resistant.
- The chances of childhood poisoning increase when usual household routines are disrupted. For example, you might need to take extra care if your family has recently moved, is on holiday or is visiting friends.
Safety reminders – how to stop children from being poisoned
At around 6 months babies start to put things in their mouths, which means they are at risk of swallowing something harmful. You can stop them from getting hold of poisonous things.
The best place to keep medicines is locked away or up high where your baby can’t come across them. Fit safety catches on any low cupboard doors and drawers and make sure bottle tops and lids are on properly.
Don’t forget the painkillers in your handbag on the floor or the ones on the bedside table.
Before your baby starts to crawl and move around, move the cleaning products from around the toilet or under the kitchen sink into a high cupboard out of sight.
Look out for products that contain a bittering agent like Bitrex. It tastes so horrible that it means that children are much more likely to spit the dangerous chemical out.
Remember, the newer liquid detergent capsules can be dangerous too - if children squeeze or bite them the liquid can squirt out. Keep them stored safely away.
Toddlers love to explore and will copy what you do. This means they are more at risk from poisoning than any other age group. Here’s how to make sure your toddler stays safe from poisoning.
Keeping your medicines and cleaning things locked up or out of reach and sight is the safest way to protect your toddler. Ideally put them in a high lockable cupboard. It’s best to keep them in a room which people use a lot. That means if your child has climbed up on a chair or worktop and is exploring in cupboards they are more likely to be seen by an adult or brother or sister.
'Child resistant' caps are not 'child-proof'. Some 3-4 year olds can open them in seconds, so make sure they're locked away too.
Toddlers like to copy what you do. Try to take your medicine when your toddler isn’t watching.
Avoid pretending your child’s medicine is a sweet, even if it’s hard to get them to take it. It can be confusing for your toddler.
When you’re visiting friends or relatives, take a few moments to look out for medicines or cleaning products lying around, like in Granny’s bedside table, so you’re not taken by surprise.
Even small amounts of alcohol can be harmful to small children, so clear up any glasses with alcohol dregs left in them.
Remember to be careful with aromatherapy oils, perfumes and cigarettes too as they can all be harmful to small children.
Children between 3 to 5 may know something about what they can safely eat, but they are still at risk from accidental poisoning. They are much more likely to be able to open child-resistant tops too.
Your child may easily be confused by colourful medicines that look like sweets. So keep them locked safely away and in the original bottles.
Do the same with cleaning products, DIY or garden chemicals, whether they are kept in the house or the garden shed.
Plants in the garden can be confusing too. Teach your child not to eat anything they pick outside. Poisonous berries can easily look like the ones they have in their pudding!
Medicine use and storage: specific tips
If your child or another family member needs to take medicine, there are some simple things you can do to minimise the risk of accidental poisoning or overdose:
- Read the label, dosage and instructions carefully when your child needs to take medicine. Double-check everything before you give your child the medicine. If you’re not sure about how much to give or for how long, ask your doctor or pharmacist.
- Avoid distractions when giving your child medicines. If possible, have a normal routine for giving or taking medicines. And always supervise your child while she’s taking medicine.
- Set up a ‘checking system’ with your child’s other caregivers to avoid giving your child double doses of medicine.
- Ask your pharmacist to put child-resistant caps on your medicines if they’re not already on the bottle. Make sure you always put the caps back on the bottles immediately and correctly after use.
- Clean out your medicine cupboard regularly. Get rid of unwanted and out-of-date medicines and other poisons. You can return unwanted medicines to your local pharmacist for safe disposal.
- Rinse empty medicine containers with water before you throw them out.
- Refer to medicines by their proper names, rather than calling them ‘special lollies’.
You can't see, smell or taste it but if but if carbon monoxide creeps out from flame burning appliances it can kill children in seconds.
Make sure that you have an audible carbon monoxide alarm fitted in your home – ideally one in every room with a fuel-burning appliance.
Antigif Centrum/Centre Antipoisons
Free and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Adapted by Kate Ellwood (First Aid Instructor and Assessor) from the Child Accident Prevention Trust website, 20th September 2019 at www.capt.org.uk/poisoning-prevention
LifeFirst provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. LifeFirst is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information. It is strongly advised that you attend a First Aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency