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Accidental poisoning

One of the most common reasons for children to be taken to A&E?

Accidental poisoning.

In the UK alone approximately 28,000 children are admitted to hospital every year for poisoning or suspected poisoning. Most of them are under 5 years old, a famously inquisitive age bracket, and one that carries a limited sense of danger or self-preservation! It therefore falls to us to effectively child-proof our homes and educate our children on the risks at the earliest opportunity.

What is a poison?

A poison is any substance that can cause harm to our bodies. The substance could be swallowed, inhaled, absorbed through the skin or injected. The most common way for a poison to enter the body in children is by swallowing.

There are 2 types of poisons: corrosive, such as bleach and cleaning products, and non-corrosive, such as medicines and alcohol. Both types should be kept well out of reach of children.

From my 15 years spent working in the Ambulance service I’ve attended many incidents involving suspected poisoning in children. From these experiences and those of paramedic colleagues and doctors, I’ve compiled the following top 10 list of poisons in the home that pose a risk to children:

1. Bleaches and cleaning products

Commonly left next to the toilet, they should be moved to a locked cupboard or somewhere out of sight. Don’t rely on child resistant caps, which may slow a child down, but not necessarily stop them! Approximately 50% of children over the age of 4 years will have no problem opening a child resistant cap. Although the nasty taste would deter most children from drinking more than a mouthful, even a small amount could cause harm.

2. Laundry capsules/dishwasher tabs

Colourful and eye-catching, some capsules are also soft so could easily squirt in the eye or on to the skin if pressed.

3. Open bottle air fresheners/plug ins

Ingesting small amounts of these substances could cause harm to your child. Use with caution in a home with young children.

4. Essential oils, perfumes and cosmetics

Substances like toothpaste, mouthwash, perfumes, hairsprays, nail varnish and nail varnish removers could all potentially cause harm.

5. Household/garden chemicals and pesticides

These products should be kept out of the house and out of sight. Never decant these substances into old drinks bottles as they may pose a serious risk if accidentally ingested.

6. Plants

Certain plants, bulbs and mushrooms can be toxic so teach your children about the importance of not eating berries outdoors unless approved by a responsible adult.  Examples of toxic plants include rhododendron, Lily of the valley, Ivy and holiday plants like Poinsettia.

7. Medicines

Medicines should always be kept out of children’s reach. Be particularly cautious of blister packs as they are easily accessed by children and often look like sweets. If your child regularly visits another home such as a relative’s house, discuss the storage of any medication. Be cautious about leaving medicines in your handbag too.

Most children love the taste of Calpol, so don’t leave the bottle lying around, as your child may be tempted to help themselves. Never refer to medicine as sweets, and to ensure correct dosage, never prepare or give medicine in the dark as it may lead to error.

8. Alcohol

Bottles of alcohol should ideally be stored in a locked cupboard, and not within reach of children.

9. Carbon Monoxide, CO

This poisonous, odourless gas can cause harm even in small quantities. Household boilers and heaters should be checked regularly and a CO detector fitted in your home. A small number of fatalities in the UK have arisen from using camping stoves/disposable barbecues in a tent, so always cook outside while camping.

10. Button Batteries

Small, shiny and found in many children’s toys, button batteries can release a caustic soda when swallowed which can cause internal burns.

So bear in mind these top 10 poisons as you carry out regular risk assessments around your home, and remember - prevention is better than cure!

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