Poisoning In Babies And Children
Poisoning occurs when a toxic substance is swallowed, inhaled, absorbed through the skin, splashed in the eyes or injected. When babies and young children get poisoned, it tends to happen as a result of their natural curiosity and desire to explore the world. This often leads them to put anything and everything into their mouths! Depending on the type and quantity of poison consumed, temporary and even permanent damage can be caused. In extreme cases, poisoning can be fatal. It's therefore important for you as a parent to be aware of poisoning symptoms and know what to do if you think your child or baby has been poisoned.
Types Of Poisoning And Symptoms
Poisoning symptoms may develop within minutes, hours or even days of your baby or child consuming a poison. In the early stages it might be easy to confuse them with a stomach bug, cold or flu. Babies and young children may also not know or be capable of telling you what it is they've eaten or drunk that might be causing the problem. You should be aware of your surroundings. Are there any empty containers, packets of pills or bottles around? Has the child been alone in the garden or kitchen? What was the last meal that your child ate? (Accidentally giving your child food poisoning is, of course, every parent's worst nightmare, but no matter how clean your kitchen, it shouldn't be ruled out as a possibility). Typical types of poisoning that can occur in the home are:
1. Swallowed household chemicals - chemicals found around the house such as bleach, detergent, perfume, etc. are often attractive to kids and can cause damage to their digestive systems if swallowed. If the chemicals manage to get into a child's bloodstream they can spread around the whole body and cause wide-spread damage. Depending on the chemical, symptoms might include vomiting (perhaps with blood), drowsiness or unconsciousness and pain or burning sensations.
2. Drug poisoning - children have been known to get their hands on parents' over-the-counter and prescription medication and swallow it. If your pills are colorful they will be even more attractive to a child. Painkillers, allergy tablets, and especially illegal or recreational drugs can all be very harmful to young children. Symptoms range from vomiting, abdominal pain, tremors and sweating to delirium and unconsciousness.
3. Food poisoning - food which is contaminated with bacteria or viruses can make children very ill indeed. Salmonella and E. coli bacteria (mostly found in meat) are among the most common causes of food poisoning at home. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea (possibly bloody), stomach cramps, dizziness, headache, fever and drowsiness. The big danger with food poisoning is dehydration through the loss of body fluids caused by vomiting and diarrhea.
4. Poisonous plants - some plants have poisonous leaves and berries. The colorful berries often make them especially attractive to children. Consumed in small amounts, these leaves and berries can cause vomiting and stomach cramps. Depending on the plant, larger doses could induce seizures and even be fatal. Eating certain types of wild mushrooms could cause hallucinations; an effect often sought after by adults using recreational drugs, but absolutely terrifying for a young child.
5. Alcohol poisoning - alcohol is easily accessible in many homes and even a small amount can make a child very sick. Symptoms include vomiting and impaired consciousness. The child may be very cold due to the dilating of the blood vessels caused by alcohol. This makes the body lose heat. A big risk from alcohol poisoning is that the child could inhale or choke on vomit while unconscious.
What Should I do?
If you think you child has been poisoned call a doctor and follow his or her instructions. If your regular doctor is not available, call the emergency services. If the child is unconscious, you should call for an ambulance immediately. Then put the child in the recovery position (on his side with his lower leg bent and his lower arm stretched out to support him, the chin tilted up to open his airway and his head low to allow vomit to drain out of his mouth). While waiting for help to arrive, try to determine what your child has consumed and how much. If possible, bring some with you to the doctor's surgery or the hospital. Medical staff will also want to know how much your child weighs. Do not induce vomiting UNLESS instructed to do so by a doctor or a trained medical professional. (If your child has swallowed bleach, for example, it could be especially dangerous for him to vomit). Likewise, only give your child milk or other fluids if the doctor tells you too.
In hospital, your child will probably be given a large dose of inactivated charcoal to prevent his stomach absorbing the poison. Inactivated charcoal is often available in pill form from pharmacies. The dose these pills contain is too small to be effective against poisoning and you should not give them to your child as a cure. It's absolutely essential that you get your child professional medical treatment.
As with any childhood hazard, prevention is better than cure when it comes to poisoning. It's impossible to watch your child 24 hours a day, but there are certain steps you can take to prevent poisoning at home. Remember that colorful containers are very likely to arouse children's curiosity and they should be kept out of sight as well as out of reach. Never pour hazardous or toxic substances into an alternative bottle or container used for drinking, like an empty soda bottle, for example. Places where you can find potential poisons in the home are:
1. The kitchen - this room is often full of cleaning products, washing powder, detergents, etc. All should be well out of sight and reach of children.
2. The bedroom and bathroom - the same goes for any soaps, shampoos perfumes, beauty products, gels, etc. you might have on your bedroom dressing table or bathroom counter. Adults often keep medication in their bedrooms too. Needless to say, any type of illegal drugs should never be kept in a house where there are children, period.
3. The living room or den - make sure all alcohol cabinets are kept locked and cigarettes and tobacco are not accessible to children. Electronic devices in the living room may also have mercury batteries. Mercury is extremely dangerous if consumed.
4. The garden - the garden may contain poisonous bushes and berries. Try to avoid having them if you can. Likewise, never buy poisonous household plants. If you have a garden shed full of weedkiller, BBQ lighter fuel, etc., keep it locked.
Lastly, ask guests who come into your home to be careful where they leave their handbags, cigarettes and alcoholic drinks. When you are visiting someone else's home, keep a close eye on your children, especially if your friends or relatives don't have young kids of their own and may not be aware of all the dangers.