7 first aid tips every parent needs to know in the event of an accidental poisoning

Accidental poisoning is most common in kids under 5 years – peaking in two-year-olds. Kids become more mobile at this age and they also start exploring the world around them without realising the dangers of things they touch or put in their mouth.

Hidden poisonous dangers you may not have thought about include:

  • Seemingly harmless household cleaning products such as bleaches and soaps can cause a local chemical (burn) injury.
  • Common medicines that aren’t stored safely like flu remedies, pain medication, antihistamines, tablets for heart and mental health conditions can cause serious poisoning in small children.
  • Pesticides can be swallowed, breathed in or absorbed through the skin. Toddlers often find rat pellets and granules which have been mixed with food and put out behind cupboards and on the floor. Poor ventilation after fumigation can also result in poisoning.
  • Paraffin is the single most common substance to cause poisoning in children. Many parents decant paraffin into smaller juice bottles, which children confuse with water, particularly in the hot summer months when they are thirsty. Just a small sip can cause harm to the lungs resulting in shortness of breath and breathing difficulty.
  • Potential causes of harm are not limited to the home, as substances in the environment such as plants, mushrooms, snakes and spiders can also result in poisoning.

What first aid can I do immediately if my child has been poisoned?

  • Rinse your child’s mouth out with water and offer a few sips of water to drink if necessary.
  • Don’t force your child to drink a cup of milk or make them vomit as it can do more harm than good.
  • Remove all contaminated clothes if your child got bleach or paraffin or another substance on her body that can cause a chemical burn.
  • Exposed skin should be washed thoroughly, as soon as possible, with soap under a constant stream of water that drains away, so use a shower, not a bath.
  • If your toddler got poison in her eyes, wash them with water for many minutes, with the eyelids held apart.
  • If your child is unconscious, turn her onto her side and gently tilt her chin up (the recovery position).
  • If a poisonous gas or smoke has been breathed in, move your child to fresh air.

ALSO SEE: 7 tips from Netcare 911 on how to treat burns

How to poison proof your home

  • Always store potential poisons out of sight and reach of children, like in a locked cupboard or in a wire cage with a padlock, high up where children can’t reach.
  • Always put medicines away immediately after use.
  • Remember that childproof containers are not 100% childproof.
  • Never refer to medicines as sweets. It makes them more attractive to a child.
  • Avoid taking medicines in front of children. They love to imitate adults, especially their parents.
  • Don’t share medicines.
  • Don’t store medicines in your handbag.
  • Dispose of unnecessary medicines. Unused medicines should be returned to the local clinic or pharmacy and must not be thrown away in the dustbin where children may find them.
  • Be especially careful when visiting other homes, as medicines may not be stored as safely as in your home.
  • Buy pesticides from shops and in proper packaging with all the warning labels. Always wear gloves when using pesticides.
  • Always leave chemicals and detergents in their original containers; don’t transfer them to coldrink bottles.
  • Keep loose batteries and battery-controlled devices away from children and place a piece of sticky tape over the battery case.
  • Teach your children about the dangers of eating anything from the garden.

ALSO SEE: How to toddler proof your home

Important notes

Exposure doesn’t necessarily mean poisoning. A substance may not be poisonous at all, or too little may have been taken to cause harm. If you suspect your child has been poisoned, find the container; identify the exact name of the substance, the amount taken, the time since exposure and note how your child is doing. Do this first, then consider calling the 24/7 Poisons Information Helpline on 0861 555 777.

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