Poisoning Prevention

Family Health Diary

Poisoning facts

  • Children aged 0-4 years are most at risk of a poisoning.
  • The most common poisoning agents are medicines. Common household chemicals and cleaners are the next most common cause.
  • Around three-quarters of all childhood poisonings occur in the child’s home, or the home of a friend or family member.
  • More boys than girls are poisoned.
  • Early morning and late afternoon/evening are peak poisoning times.
  • While poisonings are spread across all ethnic groups, Pasifika and Asian children appear less at risk than other children.

Prevention and treatment

1. Safe storage of poisonous substances
This is the most important prevention strategy.

  • Keep all medicines and chemicals out of reach of children and preferably locked away. Put them back in their place of storage after use. Special locking devices are available for cupboards and drawers.  Remember to use these devices all the time. Use a reminder for when to give medicines rather than leaving them in view. Put a note on the fridge or set an alarm clock to remind you.
  • Keep all medicines and chemicals in their original containers with the label in place.  Never put them in food or drink containers – this is both highly dangerous and illegal.
  • Store all chemicals and medicines separately from food.
  • If a medicine needs to be kept in the fridge, place it well back in the fridge, preferably in a sealed container out of sight of children.
  • Use child-resistant caps whenever possible. Remember these are not child-proof.
  • Choose junior strength or small packaging sizes to help reduce the chance of serious poisoning.
  • Remind grandparents and others who visit that medicines are easily accessible to children in handbags. Put handbags out of reach.

2. Be sure of the medicine and the dose you are giving

  • Check the label of a medicine before taking it yourself or giving it to someone else. Follow the instructions carefully. If you are unsure of the correct dose of a medicine for your child, telephone your local pharmacist, doctor, or at night an after-hours medical centre or helpline.
  • Turn on a light when giving medicines at night to someone else or taking them yourself to make sure you can read the instructions correctly and see what you are doing.
  • Use proper medicine measures to measure accurate doses. Household spoons vary in size. Ask your pharmacist to recommend a measure that best suits your needs.

3. Be wise with medicines

  • Call medicines medicines. Never call them sweets, lollies or soft drinks. Educate children that medicines are for use only with adults.
  • Return all unwanted or out-of-date medicines to your pharmacist for safe disposal. It is not appropriate to flush them down the toilet, wash them down the sink or put them out in the rubbish.

4. Be wise with chemicals

  • Read the labels carefully.
  • Don’t mix different cleaners together as they may interact to form toxic gases.
  • Make sure you clean up after working around the house, car and garden.
  • Throw out left-over cleaners, sprays or paint-products straight away.
  • If you have to mix sprays or soak paint brushes in white spirits or turps, do not use cups, soft-drink bottles or other containers that are usually used to hold food or drink. Even adults could drink from these containers by mistake.

5. Know what to do if you think a poisoning has occurred

  • Keep these telephone numbers near your phone: National Poisons Centre (0800 764 766), Doctor, After Hours Medical Centre, Pharmacy.
  • Remove the poisonous substance from the child immediately.
  • Don’t give them anything to eat or try to make them vomit.
  • If you can, take the container with you to the phone. It is important for you to be able to tell the Poisons Centre or your doctor what has been swallowed. They will tell you what to do for treatment and/or whether you should take your child to the doctor or a hospital.
  • If you are not able to telephone anyone take your child straight to your nearest medical centre or hospital emergency department. Take the medicine container with you.
  • If you know someone has taken a corrosive substance (one which burns the inside of the mouth and throat, such as dishwasher detergent, battery fluid, bleach or rat poison) immediately give a small amount of fluid – (¼ to ½ cup for a child, 1 to 2 cups for an adult).

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