Kids Health Info

Poisoning Prevention for Children

  • Children are at particular risk of poisoning, and will require emergency treatment and hospital admission in severe cases. Death from poisoning is rare, but ongoing treatment is necessary in some serious cases.

    What is a poison?

    Any household product or medicine used incorrectly can be a poison. Poisons include:

    • drugs or medicines (includes paracetamol, cough and cold preparations, prescription medications, sleeping tablets)
    • cleaning products (detergents, bleaches, drain cleaners)
    • cosmetics (perfume, nail polish remover, cologne, make-up)
    • other chemicals such as petrol, alcohol, cigarettes, glues, herbicides and pesticides
    • poisonous plants

    Poisoning can occur if the substance is swallowed, inhaled, spilt on the skin, splashed into the eye or injected.

    Who is at risk?

    Poisoning can happen to anyone, anywhere, but is more common in children aged five years and under, with those aged between one and three years at greatest risk.

    Children are particularly at risk as they enjoy exploring and putting things in their mouth as part of their normal development. Parents are often surprised just how many potentially poisonous substances they have at home and the speed with which their little one can touch, inhale or ingest something. Young children also learn by imitation and may want to take medications just like Mum and Dad.

    You can reduce the risk of accidental poisoning by securely storing and safely using medications and poisonous substances.

    What to do if you suspect a poisoning has occurred?

    If you suspect a child has been exposed to poison, do not try to induce vomiting. Do not wait for symptoms to occur. Take the child and the container with you to the phone and call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 immediately for first aid advice. It is helpful to know what the substance was and how much of the substance was taken.

    If a child has collapsed, stopped breathing, is fitting or is suffering an anaphylactic reaction, dial 000 for an ambulance. Do not ring the Poisons Information Centre in an emergency.

    Ways to prevent poisoning:

    • Store chemicals, medicines and cleaning products in a locked or child-resistant cupboard, out of reach and out of sight of children (at least 1.5m high). Locks and lockable cabinets are available at hardware stores.
    • Garden sprays, fertilisers, paints, thinners and other handyman products should be kept in a locked cupboard in a garage or shed and out of reach of children.
    • Leave all chemicals, medicines and cleaning products in their original containers with clear labels. Always follow the directions for use on the label. Never transfer or store these products in cups or soft drink bottles.
    • Medicines and other poisons should not be left unattended within children’s reach. Put all chemicals, medicines and cleaning products away immediately after buying or using them.
    • Whenever possible, purchase products with child-resistant lids or packaging.
    • Store poisons away from food.
    • Refer to medicines by their proper names. Do not confuse children by referring to medicines as lollies.
    • Young children tend to imitate adults, so adults should avoid taking medicines with children present.
    • Clean medicine cupboards out regularly. Take unwanted and out-of-date medicines to a pharmacy for disposal.
    • Visitor’s bags may contain medicines. They should be kept well out of reach of children.
    • Errors can occur when medicines are administered. Taking more than the recommended dose can be harmful so take extra care when measuring and giving medicines.

    Key points to remember:

    • Install child-resistant locks on all cupboards where you keep chemicals, medicines and cleaning products.
    • Leave all chemicals, medicines and cleaning products in their original containers and follow the directions on the label.
    • Put all chemicals away immediately after use.
    • If your child has swallowed something poisonous, take the container and the child to the phone and call 13 11 26 (24 hours). In an emergency, call for an ambulance on 000.

    More information

    Victorian Poisons Information Centre

    13 11 26

    Kidsafe Victoria

    (03) 9036 2306

    The Australian Drug Foundation

    1300 858 584

    Developed by Injury Prevention. First published 2015. Updated 2016.

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This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.