Poisoning: what you need to know
Accidents with poison usually happen at home. They’re very common – almost 50 Australian children a week are admitted to hospitals because of poisoning.
Poisoning accidents are often unexpected. Suddenly your child can open a bottle or reach a cupboard you thought was safe. This means you need to be aware and plan ahead as your child develops new skills.
It’s important to closely supervise your child whenever household poisons are in use. Close supervision means staying alert and being ready to step in, without being distracted by things like answering the phone.
Many substances around the home are actually household poisons. Also, a lot of things become poisonous when they’re not used in the way they’re intended. For example, dishwashing powder is harmful if it’s swallowed or gets into eyes.
Medicines can poison too. In fact, they’re the most common cause of poisoning in young children, accounting for 70% of all cases of child poisoning. Almost all medicines are poisonous if taken in large enough doses – this even includes vitamin pills and herbal remedies. Once you’re aware of substances that are or might be dangerous, it’s easier to protect your child.
If you think your child has swallowed something poisonous, immediately take the container and the child to the phone and call the Poisons Information Centre on 131 126 for first aid advice – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, Australia wide. If your child needs urgent medical help, call an ambulance – phone 000.
Preventing poisoning: storing medicines, chemicals and cleaners safely
The first step in preventing poisoning is storing medicines, chemicals and cleaners up high in a locked cupboard, safely out of reach and out of sight of your child. The cupboard should be at least 1.5 m high and should have child-resistant locks.
Here are more things you can to do reduce the risk of poisoning in your home:
- Before your child starts moving and climbing, make sure all dangerous items are out of reach.
- Lock medicines, chemicals and cleaners away in their storage place immediately after you’ve finished with them.
- Always store medicines, household cleaners, chemicals and poisons in child-resistant containers or locked cupboards that your child can’t open. You can put child-resistant locks on most cupboards.
- Leave all chemicals, medicines and cleaning products in their original containers. Never transfer poisons into food or drink containers. Don’t put chemicals like detergents, paint thinners and weed killers into empty soft drink or juice bottles.
- Clean out your chemicals cupboard regularly. Get rid of unwanted chemicals and cleaning products. Rinse empty chemical containers with water before you throw them out.
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.
Sometimes curious children can find a way through child-resistant containers or locks. It’s important to tell your child to stay away from medicines, chemicals and cleaners.
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’.
It’s also a good idea to be careful when friends come to visit. For example, make sure their bags are out of your child’s reach, because the bags might contain medicines.
There are different poisoning risks at each new stage of your child’s development, as your child learns to reach and move more. These developmental changes can happen quickly, so planning ahead helps avoid risks.