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  • Shaken Baby Syndrome

    Tuesday, 21 July 2015 16:28
  • Amniotic fluid problems

    Thursday, 14 May 2015 12:54
  • Choosing a pre-school

    Friday, 10 April 2015 17:50
  • Newborn reflexes

    Tuesday, 03 March 2015 15:49
  • Mastitis

    Tuesday, 03 March 2015 15:41
  • Pelvic floor exercises

    Wednesday, 11 February 2015 17:20
  • Colic

    Wednesday, 11 February 2015 17:11
  • Antenatal Classes

    Monday, 03 June 2013 09:34
  • Strap-in-the-Future

    Thursday, 30 June 2011 13:52


poisonMost poisonings occur at home, in children under the age of 6. Poisoning occurs when a harmful substance is inhaled or swallowed, spilt on the skin, or sprayed or splashed in the eye.

If a poison or chemical is ingested it can be harmful to the mouth and digestive tract; it may also get into the bloodstream and cause further damage. The effects of poisoning vary, depending on the substance swallowed or inhaled and the amount; but there may be vomiting, a burning sensation or pain in the gullet or abdomen, and loss of consciousness.

Common household products such as bleach, dishwashing liquid, and paint striper contain strong chemicals that are poisonous. Many medicines are harmful especially if taken in excessive doses. Some plants and fungi are poisonous if eaten.

It is essential to poison-proof your house, to prevent accidental poisonings. Be extra vigilant with children who have swallowed a poison before because a child, who has been involved in one poisoning incident, is more likely to be involved in another one.

Signs and Symptoms:
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sudden drowsiness and lethargy are symptoms of many different types of poisoning. Even if these symptoms are gradual, they should not be ignored. Carbon monoxide for example, is an odourless gas that can leak slowly over time, and cause dizziness, fatigue and headache.
  • Abdominal pain
  • Unusual rashes or burns on your child's skin, together with tears, holes or stains on their clothing may indicate that they have been in contact with poisonous chemicals.
  • Strange smells on your child's breath or any unusual marks around their mouth, may indicate that they have ingested a liquid poison, or eaten the fruit or leaves of a poisonous plant.
  • Fitting
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Throat pain
  • Inexplicable drooling

How to help your child:
If you suspect that your child has been poisoned or exposed to harmful substances; early and effective treatment are a priority. If they are conscious and alert, perform first aid treatment in the home, such as irrigation of the eye if they have had eye contact with a poisonous substance and then call the poison control center for further advice. If your child has collapsed or is not breathing, call for an ambulance immediately:
  • Check for breathing. If you child's breathing has stopped begin CPR (see our YouTube video on how to perform chest compressions, alternating with rescue breaths while you wait for help). If your child has swallowed a corrosive substance, use a facemask when performing rescue breaths.
  • If your child is breathing but has lost consciousness, place him or her in the recovery position.
  • Remove any contaminated clothing and rinse affected skin with warm water for 15 minutes. If your child is frightened, get in the shower with them to rinse their affected skin. Wipe away any remnants of the poisonous substance from around the mouth. If they have not swallowed the poisonous substance, make them spit it out. In younger children, the substance may need to be forcibly removed by using two fingers to scoop it out of their mouth. Take care not to get any poison on uncontaminated areas or on your own skin.
  • If your child's mouth or lips show signs of burning, offer them small sips of water or milk. This may help soothe their mouth and digestive tract.
  • If alcohol poisoning is suspected, cover your child with a blanket to make sure they don't get too cold.
  • Monitor your child's breathing, pulse and level of response regularly, until medical assistance becomes available.
  • Try to find out what was swallowed and how much. Keep the bottle that the poison or medication was in. If possible, take a sample of the ingested fruit, berry or plant to the hospital. This will assist medical staff in assessing the problem and administering the correct antidote to your child as far as possible.
  • If a poisonous substance has splashed in your child's eye, immediately flush the eye by gently pouring lukewarm water into the inner corner. Try holding the eyelid open or encouraging your child to blink, while you flush out their eye for 15 minutes. If your child is upset or frightened, it might be helpful to ask another adult to hold your child while you flush the toxic substance out of their eye. If you are alone, wrap your child in a towel or blanket and hold them under one arm. Reassure your child throughout the process and then call the poison center for further guidance.
  • If your child has been exposed to toxic fumes, get them into the fresh air as quickly as possible. Assess your child's breathing, heart rate and level of consciousness.

  • Try to give your child fluids if they are unconscious
  • Try induce vomiting. This can be extremely dangerous as it may allow some of the poison into the lungs, causing damage to these organs and possibly affecting breathing. If your child has swallowed a corrosive poison, it will burn the throat again if it is vomited up.
  • Wait for symptoms to appear, if you suspect your child has been poisoned, given the incorrect medication, or the wrong dose of medicine. Contact the Poisons Control Centre immediately, for appropriate advice.

Many accidental poisoning exposures in children are mild and can be dealt with effectively at home. If your child doesn't appear to be in immediate danger, call the poison control center for instructions on how to counter act the poison if you know what your child has come into contact with. The Poisons Control Centre may advise you to take your child to the doctor or hospital. If your child requires hospitalization, treatment may include: admission for close observation, blood tests, activated charcoal (this binds to certain drugs so that the body cannot absorb them), or antidotes that are available for some poisons.

Always ensure that potentially harmful substances, such as medicines, cleaning or gardening products and household chemicals are locked away and out of reach of children.
If you spending time in the garden or countryside, always be on the alert and see that your child does not eat any poisonous berries, mushrooms or plants.
When giving your child medication, always check the dosage instructions carefully. Parents or caregivers should establish a "checking system" with one another, to ensure they avoid giving double doses of medication.
Buy medicines with child resistant caps and never refer to medicine as candy.
Never put harmful substances into containers, such as empty juice bottles, that look like something your child may eat or drink.
Supervise your child when they use art supplies, such as markers or glue.
Keep emergency contact details, including those of the poison center near every phone in your home. The number for the Poison Information Centre is 021 689 5227. 

Children are naturally curious and have a desire to explore the world around them. For younger children, this often means putting things in their mouths because this sensory rich area provides information about taste, texture, consistency and shape. Older children have inquisitive minds and need to see how things work and "what will happen if", leading them to experiment with whatever ingredients are available. These situations carry a high risk of accidental poisoning, and it is important for parents to be able to spot the symptoms and treat them appropriately.

Mackonochie A. The Practical Encyclopaedia Of Pregnancy & Babycare. London: Hermes House; 2010.
Peters M. British Medical Association Home Doctor. London: Dorling Kindersley; 2009.
American academy of Pediatrics: Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention. Pediatrics. 2003; 112(5): 1182-1185. Accessed April 25, 2012.
Baby Center Medical Advisory board. Find out what's making your child sick: Poisoning. Baby Center. http://www.babycenter. Home> Toddler> Injuries & Accidents> Poisoning. Published June 10, 2011. Accessed April 18, 2012.
Better Health Channel. Child poisoning in the home- symptoms and treatment. Better Health Channel. >Healthy living> Safety – Child safety. Published April 11, 2012. Accessed April 23, 2012.
Livestrong. How to Spot Symptoms of Poisoning in Children. Livestrong.> Healthy Living. Published 1999. Accessed April