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BN Doctors’ Lounge with Kemi Tokan-Lawal: Accidental Poisoning in Children



The uncertainties that come with raising boisterous toddlers drives in the reality that mothers have to be extra-careful and vigilant. I recall a mother running hysterically into the Children’s Emergency Ward. Her three year old had just mistakenly drank a bottle of Savlon (a disinfectant) thinking it was a bottle of Lucozade (a drink).

I witnessed another case of a four year old boy who had just gulped down a glass of brandy which his father had left on a table after entertaining guests. Another instance was that of a three year old who had choked on a small sized padlock! The instances are countless but like many situations prevention is the key.

What is Accidental Poisoning?
This involves a person – a young child – poisoning themselves unknowingly, without wanting to cause harm to their body. This is very common amongst our young explorers who are keen on learning and discovering new things by putting them in their mouth. They really do not know the difference between poisons and safe substances .Their curiousity is foremost.

What Causes Accidental Poisoning?
Most poisonings happen at home but can happen anywhere. Often times ,the substance is in sight ready to be used but unattended by an adult. Other times, the children may have opened closed cupboards or climbed high to get the substance or object.

Many household items can be poisonous.
• Medications such as paracetamol ,cold or flu tablets,cough syrup, mouthwash, vitamins, antibiotics.
• Cleaning products such as detergents, cleaning sprays, bleaches, washing powder , room sprays , methylated spirits and lots more.
• Cosmetics such as creams, ointments, shampoos, perfumes, aftershaves and lots more.
• Other products like alcohol, pesticides, aromatic oils, glue, batteries.

Symptoms of Poisoning
Some poisons can cause minor sympthos like:
• Nausea
• Vomiting
• Drowsiness
• Stomach pain
• Burns in the mouth and throat

While some poisons are highly toxic and a small amount can cause seizures , cardiac arrest ,unconsciousness and even death.

Treatment for Accidental Poisoning
Treatment will depend on the poison. Once accidental poisoning occurs it is very important to go to your doctor immediately.
• Activated charcoal. This substance stops the body from absorbing the poison but it must be given within one hour of the child swallowing the poison for it to be effective. However, it does not work with every substance.
• Observation – Some poisons have a delayed effect and the child may have to spend the night at the hospital.
• Monitoring of heart rhythms and checking other vital signs such as blood pressure and oxygen levels.
• Blood tests – to check the level of poison in the blood this helps decide on further treatment.

Tips for Preventing Accidental Provision
• Store all medicines locked up away from children, child resistant locks can be used.
• Never refer to medicines as ‘candy’ when speaking to children.
• Keep all cleaning supplies – antiseptics,washing powders ,locked up and out of childrens reach.
• Keep all products in their original containers with original labels.
• When products are in use ,never let young children out of your sight or take the product.
• Never use rodent controls that can be within the reach of children .
• Never use soft drink bottles to hold paint or other substances .
• Discard old medicines properly.
• Check that plants in your garden are not poisonous.
• Mothers should take time out to check their kids toys storage for small parts that may have fallen off and discard.

In Summary
Children by nature are explorers. This normal curiosity can lead them to danger. Poisoning can occur at anytime , anyplace, at home,while visiting. However, childhood poisoning can be prevented by safeguarding poisonous substances in the home and ensuring your child has no access to these substances.

Did You Know?
The risk of childhood poisoning is highest around the age of two as children become more mobile and inquisitive.
Accidental poisoning occurs more in boys.
Any object or toy that can pass through a tissue hole is a potential choking hazard.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Michael Zhang

Kemi Tokan-Lawal is a Medical doctor , milliner, medical writer, maternal and child health advocate. She graduated with a bachelor of medicine, bachelor of surgery from Obafemi Awolowo university .An alumnus of Lagos Buisness School.She is passionate about maternal and child health. She runs an NGO - Oystercare foundation which is an initiative to help the reduction of maternal mortality and under five deaths in Nigeria. Find her on Instagram -@doctorktl .

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