Poison Prevention in Young Children


Each year over 200,000 poisonings are reported to Canadian poison control centres. More than half of these involve children less than six years old, and children between the ages of one and three years are at highest risk. Almost all of the situations are unintentional and are a result of the curious child exploring their environment. The types of substances that are involved are the ones most accessible to them. Analgesics, cough and cold products, plants and household cleaners are among the most common causes of poisoning in children.

Poisoning from analgesics most commonly occurs from a child getting into his or her own acetaminophen product but can also result if the child finds pain medication next to their grandparents’ bed or in a visitor’s purse. Serious poisoning is more likely to occur when a child ingests an adult-strength medicine or when a parent mistakenly gives extra doses of a medicine over several days.

Cough and cold products contain a combination of ingredients including antihistamines, decongestants, acetaminophen and cough suppressants. These syrups are designed to taste good and often are left on a bedside table when being administered to the child at bedtime. A typical situation involves the child getting up before the parent and ingesting the remainder of the liquid in the bottle. The ingestion of an excessive amount of these products can result in CNS depression and/or excitation.

Household plants are commonly ingested by curious crawlers. Many household plants are nontoxic but some can cause oral irritation and vomiting. Outdoor plants including berries and mushrooms are particularly attractive to young children and many of these can be toxic.

Household cleaners generally are much safer than those used decades ago. The alkali content has been reduced over the years and as a result the incidence of severe oral burns has declined. However, ingestion of toilet bowl cleaners with hydrochloric acid, drain cleaners with sodium hydroxide, or automotive chrome cleaners with hydrofluoric acid can produce severe toxicity and death. Petroleum hydrocarbon products such as lamp oil, furniture polish, gasoline, and kerosene also represent a hazard to children. Ingestion of even a small mouthful of any of these products may result in aspiration and chemical pneumonia.

There are a variety of factors that contribute to poisonings in young children. Seventy-five percent of childhood poisonings involve substances that are in use at the time or are not in their usual storage place. Products with an appealing or familiar-looking package, taste or appearance may be more likely to be ingested by a young child. Disruptions in the daily routine may also contribute to poisonings in children. These can include a serious family illness, moving, or having visitors.

Poison prevention education varies with the targeted age group. Poisoning in young children is usually unintentional and education needs to be delivered to parents, grandparents, or babysitters. Prevention messages include how to poison-proof the home, how to store medicines and chemicals properly, what to do if a poisoning occurs despite prevention efforts, and how to contact the poison control centre.

Poison Prevention Tips

  • Store chemicals and medicines in their original labelled containers.
  • Keep medicines in child resistant containers.
  • Return medicines and chemicals to their safe place after using.
  • Always read the label before using a chemical or a medicine.

What if a Poisoning occurs despite your efforts?

  • Call your Poison Control Centre immediately.
  • The phone number can be found in the emergency numbers of your phone book.
  • Poison prevention information and contact numbers for Canadian poison control centres can be found at www.capcc.com