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How to prevent childhood poisoning

27 Nov, 2023

Poisoning is still one of the most important causes of childhood injury in Australia, leading to thousands of hospital admissions each year.

It is absolutely essential that parents do all they can around the home to reduce the risk of accidental poisoning, which can have very severe consequences for a small child. First aid knowledge is also essential, so that if an incident does occur, you know what to do.

It is important to note that medications are the single biggest cause of childhood poisoning, largely because tablets look like lollies to a small child and they see adults taking them too. Adults also often lock up all the “serious” poisons but then leave medication in handbags on the floor or in the bathroom cabinet or bedside table that a child may gain access to.

Numerous other household items also pose a real threat to a small child, including cleaning products, detergents, button batteries, dishwashing tablets, pool chemicals and pest control products.

Of great importance is the fact that basic first aid measures can have a very significant impact on the outcome. Knowing what to do, or what not to do, is very important.

Many parents immediately rush a poisoned child to hospital and this is often not correct, as the poisoning process can literally be taking place on the way. As a general rule, it is always best to call the Poisons Information Centre for advice first on 13 1126. They are extremely professional and will help you get through the situation in the best way possible. They will advise on what first aid action should immediately be taken and also whether a GP should be consulted after that or if the child should be taken to hospital or not and whether an ambulance is required.

Vomiting is generally not advisable, contrary to popular opinion! Do not give the child Ipecac Syrup, as used to be done many, many years ago.

You might need to wipe away any poison still on the child’s face and it may be advisable to give the child small sips of water (or possibly even milk) in order to wash the poison out of the mouth and throat, but you need advice from the Poisons Information Centre, as all poisons are different. Never assume that because a certain treatment worked well with a particular poison that the same treatment will be effective with another type of poison.

If going to the hospital, the poison should be taken with, if safe to do so, so that the medical staff can investigate further.


Of course, always remember that prevention is always better than cure. It makes a great deal of sense to go around your house sooner rather than later, particularly the kitchen and bathroom and ensure that all dangerous products are stored well out of the reach of little hands, preferably in childproof containers too.

Locks/latches that secure cupboard doors can be very helpful, but are not necessarily enough on their own, as they can accidentally be left off and then poisons accessed by a child. Poisons should not be stored low down where a child can reach them, but should be kept up high, well out of reach. This includes all medications, including Paracetamol.

Also remember that some cheeky monkeys are climbers too, so be very careful in this regard and put poisons in lockable/ childproof containers where possible too!

Find out more about Family First Aid at

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