Accidental Poisoning In Children: What You Need To Know

When children consume substances that are harmful or even fatal, they need immediate care and medical attention. Find out what you must do to prevent poisoning at home and how it can be treated.

By Asha Kurien

Accidental Poisoning In Children: What You Need To Know

Parents often have to deal with accidental poisoning in their child because the child, unaware of the consequences, consumes a substance that is harmful and can even be fatal.

Children harm themselves mainly because of their inquisitiveness. Curiosity makes them explore new things and the child’s first step in assessing the new object is to put it into his mouth. A sour or bitter taste might not deter him from swallowing it.

Causes of accidental poisoning

Poisoning mostly occurs in children under the age of 3, because they are too young to know what’s safe for them. Accidental poisoning in children is one of the most common emergencies encountered by the paediatric departments in hospitals. A majority of the poisoning is caused by medicines, which in general, are found to be harmful to children, if not administered under a doctor’s guidance. Tablets or capsules left lying around carelessly are eaten by children who assume they are sweets.

Another frequently reported cause of poisoning in children, especially in rural India, is the consumption of kerosene as it is often mistaken to be soft drinks as they are stored in similar bottles. Many other items used at home are prone to be poisonous and harmful to children. Some of them are

  • Household cleaning agents like detergents, bleaching powder, washing powder, deodorants and turpentine
  • Cosmetics like facial creams, perfumes, shampoos and aftershaves
  • Pesticides and glue.

Children tend to explore cupboards and rooms that are closed and are happy to put anything they can lay their hands on into their mouths.

To know more about food poisoning in children, click here.

Plants like coloured mushrooms, lilies and ornamental plants with attractive colourful leaves are also poisonous. They draw the attention of young children and should be kept out of their reach.

Symptoms of poisoning in children

The symptoms differ and depend on what the child has swallowed, the amount that has been consumed as well as the child’s general health. Some items that the child may swallow may cause only minor symptoms, while some others may cause nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, stomach pain, burns or injuries to the insides of the mouth and the food pipe connecting the mouth to the stomach. Some poisonous items are highly toxic and a small amount can create serious problems including fits, respiratory issues, lack of consciousness, heart problems, coma or in the worst case, even premature death.

Poisoning: Treatment methods

First aid: The treatment should start at home, when the child shows signs of discomfort. Different treatments can be carried out, depending on the poisonous substance consumed, under a doctor’s guidance.

Activated charcoal: This is a tried and tested first aid method. When common charcoal is heated, it develops internal space or pores. These pores help activated charcoal trap chemicals and prevents their absorption. A piece of charcoal must be administered to the child within one hour of consuming the poison in order to be effective. But, in some cases, it does not react with some substances, for reasons unknown.

Antidotes: Antidote is a medical method where other remedies are given to the child to counteract the after-effects of poison. For some poisonous substances, antidotes are given to reverse the effects.

Medical assistance

Observation is probably the first and most important step to be taken by parents and elders of the family. Some poisons have delayed effect and the child might not show immediate signs of discomfort or symptoms. But if the child has been found to have swallowed or eaten something that could be dangerous, he needs immediate attention. After the initial first aid given at home, if the child doesn’t show signs of improvement, please do not hesitate to take him to the nearest hospital. It is of paramount importance that the doctor is contacted and briefed immediately and the advice once received, acted upon. Monitoring the vital signs, such as the heartbeat, blood pressure and the intake of oxygen are of critical importance. A blood test may be required to check the level of poison in the system to decide if any further course of action is required.

Ways to prevent accidental poisoning

Care must be taken to keep medicines and household chemicals in ‘child-proof containers’, out of reach of children. Also, choose to buy medicines that are packed in ‘blister packs’ and ‘foil strips’ whenever possible. Make sure that the cupboard where the medicines are kept is locked.

Always make it a habit to discard outdated medicines and unused batteries.