What you need to know
Accidents with poison usually happen at home, and they’re generally unexpected. Suddenly your child can open a bottle or reach a cupboard you thought was safe – you need to be constantly on the look-out and planning ahead as your child develops new skills.
Many common household substances are poisonous (read our article on household poisons for our checklists). Also, a lot of things become poisonous when they’re not used in the way they’re intended. Once you’re aware of substances that are – or that might be – dangerous, it’s easier to protect your child.
Medicines can poison. In fact, they’re the most common cause of poisoning in young children, accounting for 70% of all cases of child poisoning. Just about all medicines are poisonous if taken in large enough doses – this even includes vitamin pills and herbal remedies.
If you or someone in your care might have been poisoned, immediately call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 for first aid advice (24 hours a day, seven days a week, Australia-wide).
The first step in preventing poisoning is storing medicines and chemicals up high in a locked cupboard, safely out of reach and out of sight of your child. Never leave medicines, chemicals and cleaners unattended while in use, and put them away immediately after they’re used.
Here are some more tips:
- Before your child starts moving and climbing, make sure all dangerous items are out of reach.
- Always store medicines, household cleaners, chemicals and poisons in child-resistant containers or locked cupboards your child can’t open.
- Keep poisonous substances out of reach of your child at all times when they’re being used.
- Return poisons to their storage place immediately after use.
Ask your pharmacist to put child-resistant closures on your medicines if they’re not already on the bottle. Make sure you always put the caps back on the bottles correctly.
- Dispose of unwanted medicines and other poisons promptly. Unwanted medicines can be returned to your local pharmacist for safe disposal.
- Leave poisons in their original containers. Never transfer poisons into food or drink containers – that is, don’t put chemicals such as detergents, paint thinners and weed killers into empty soft drink or juice bottles. Keep these products in their original containers so your child won’t think he’s found something nice to drink.
- Extra care must be taken if your family has recently moved, is on holiday, is visiting friends, or has people visiting your home. When friends come to visit, make sure their handbags are out of your child’s reach, because these might contain medicines. The chances of childhood poisoning increase when usual household routines are disrupted.
- If your child needs to take medicine, read the label, dosage and instructions carefully. If you’re at all unsure about how much to give or for how long, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. Parents should establish a ‘checking system’ with each other to avoid giving double doses of medicine to their child. And always supervise your child while she’s taking medicine.
- Note that different poisoning risks emerge at each new stage of your child’s development, as he can continually reach and move more. These developmental changes can take place rapidly, so planning ahead can help you avoid risks.
Everyday items such as oven cleaners, drain cleaners and dishwashing powders can poison your child. Make sure all medicines and household chemicals are kept in a child-resistant cupboard. Child-resistant locks can be installed on most cupboards.
Facts and stats
- Most of the calls received each year by the Poisons Information Centre relate to incidents where children have swallowed something harmful or sprayed something into their eyes at home.
- Around 40 children are admitted to hospital in Australia every week because of accidental poisoning.