Accidental poisoning in children: crucial information for parents
Is your home as safe as you think it is? Find out about the topic of accidental poisoning in children and arm yourself with information to prevent this from happening to your child. You'll also learn what to do (and what NOT to do), and who to call, should this happen to your little one.
Young children, especially toddlers and babies, are naturally curious and love to explore their surroundings using all their senses, including touch and taste.
Because of this tendency, what you think are safe spaces — such as your home — could potentially become quite dangerous, especially when toxic substances are inadvertently ingested by inquisitive little ones.
Experts point out that incidents of ingesting harmful substances are usually more prevalent among little boys.
Accidental poisoning in children, especially under the age of five, is much more common than you think, both in Singapore and elsewhere in the world.
According to research published by Ong et al. earlier this year (2016), “pre-school children (under the age of 5 years) had a higher proportion of head injuries, foreign bodies injury, burns or scalds and poisoning“.
Globally, “acute poisoning caused more than 45 000 deaths in children and youth under 20 years of age – 13% of all fatal accidental poisonings worldwide [in 2004]”, says the World Health Organisation.
The tragedy about incidents of accidental poisoning in children is that almost always, these cases are completely preventable.
In this article, you will learn about the most common causes of accidental poisoning in children that are found in your homes, what you should do if your child ingests a toxic substance, and how to prevent accidental poisoning from happening.
The most common causes of accidental poisoning
Younger kids are particularly vulnerable to poisoning due to the combination of their natural curiosity and their smaller size, which means the toxicity of the substances becomes more concentrated if swallowed.
Many seemingly innocent items you have in your home can unintentionally poison your little ones if ingested, inhaled or comes into contact with their skin or eyes.
Here are the most common of these:
1. Cleaning products: These include (but are not limited to) drain cleaners; dishwash, laundry liquid/powder and other detergents; cleaning substances (e.g. bleach); room deodorants; turpentine; vinegar; insecticide.
2. Cosmetics: Perfumes and aftershaves; lotions and creams; makeup; shampoos and conditioners.
3. House plants: Read this article to find out which common houseplants can be toxic to kids.
4. Medications: Including, but not limited to vitamins; essential oils and other herbal remedies; paracetamol; cough medicines; mouthwash; antibiotics and antiseptics; sedatives; antihistamines; insect repellents and more.
Who to call?
In any instance where you suspect your child has had large amounts of exposure to a poisonous substance, you should call 995 immediately.
If it’s a non-emergency, then call the Drugs & Poison number on 6423 9119, where you will be advised on what steps to take.
What to do?
1. Your child has swallowed a poisonous substance
If your child has in his possession an open or empty container of any substance that is not food, the first thing to remember is to stay calm and act fast.
- Get the item away from your little one immediately. If you see traces of it in his mouth, remove it using your fingers or get him to spit it out. Remember to keep anything you can get out this way to make identification of it easier, which in turn, will help with effective treatment. Also keep empty containers.
- Do not force your child to vomit. This could actually make the situation worse as the poison travels back out through his system.
- Call 995 immediately. If your child is unconscious, SingHealth advises that while you wait for the ambulance, you place him on his stomach. This way, even if he vomits, he will not inhale it.
2. Your child has spilled something toxic on his skin
- Remove all his clothes and wash the skin under running, room temperature water for at least 15 minutes.
- Do not apply ointments or creams (or use home remedies). Call Drugs & Poison for advice, or 995 if you think your child is in danger.
3. Your child has spilled something poisonous in his eye
- With another adult’s help to hold your child, keep your child’s eyelid open and then, pour a steady stream of room-temperature water into the inner corner of the eye to flush out the toxin.
- If you are alone, wrap your child tightly in a towel (burrito-style) and hold him firmly under one arm. This will let you free one hand to keep your little one’s eye open, and the other to pour water.
- Flush your child’s eye in this way for at least 15 minutes. Then call Drugs & Poison for further advice.
- Do not use eye drops or any other eye medication unless medically advised to do so.
- If you think the situation is dire, please call 995 without delay.
4. Your child has inhaled toxic fumes
Common sources of toxic fumes in your home include ovens, stoves or other gas-run appliances and a car running in a closed garage.
- First, enable your child to breathe fresh air immediately.
- Start cardiopulmunary resuscitation (CPR) without delay if your child has stopped breathing. Either get someone else to call 995 while you administer CPR or do it for a minute before calling, and re-commence CPR the moment you get off the phone.
- Do not stop CPR on your unconscious child until the ambulance arrives
Preventing accidental poisoning
Prevention is always better than cure, mums and dads, so please take note of the following information that can keep your precious little ones safe from accidental poisoning.
- Lock up all medicines and cleaning products, and keep them well out of reach from your child. Emphasise very strongly to your helper and other caregivers of your child the importance of keeping such substances away from your little one.
- Before you baby starts getting mobile, fix safety latches on all drawers and cabinets that contain dangerous substances and objects.
- Keep your kitchen out of bounds to your child. Consider installing a safety gate to barricade the entrance.
- Always be prepared for a poisoning emergency. Have 995 on speed dial (including on your helper’s phone) and display the Drugs & Poison number clearly.
- When buying pills and tablets, if possible ask for those in blister packs and foil strips.
- Carefully read and follow dosage instructions on all kids medications. If you don’t, you could inadvertently poison your child by overdosing him on even a commonly prescribed medicine such as Baby Panadol.
- Never refer to pills and liquid medications as ‘sweets’, ‘juice’ or any other food or drink your child likes.
- Keep poisons and medications in their original containers. Never, ever put poisons or other chemical substances in drink bottles (e.g. empty soft drink bottles).
- Immediately dispose of empty containers, old batteries and expired medication.
- Never take pills in front of your young children as they may try to imitate you.
Also, remember these words of advice from SingHealth in the event of accidental poisoning of your child:
“Even if your child appears well initially, do not waste time in attempting to observe your child at home. This is because some medicines or poisons do not manifest the effects until several hours after they have been ingested.
“These are considered as “time-bombs”. One common example is paracetamol poisoning. If your child swallows an excessive amount of paracetamol, he may appear well in the first few hours, but may suffer from severe liver and kidney complications if left untreated.”
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