Poisoning – it’s a major cause of hospitalisation for young children in New Zealand. On average, two children are admitted to hospital every day because of swallowing poisons.
83% of these children are between 0 and 4 years of age and this makes poisoning the third most common cause of injury-related hospital admissions for children of this age. Nearly three-quarters of all childhood poisonings occur in the home.
These statistics are pretty scary so what can be done to prevent poisoning.
Firstly let’s look at why and how poisoning happens.
Poisonings often occur when a substance is not in its usual storage place – perhaps it’s in use or between uses. A parent or caregiver might be distracted when using a cleaning product or just before or just after giving a dose of medicine to a child. The distraction might be a telephone call or another child calling for attention – but the result is that an adult leaves something exposed and a child gets into it. Poisoning can only take a few seconds to happen.
The two strongest risk factors related to childhood poisoning are visibility and low-level placement i.e. when a substance is both able to be seen by a child and it’s placed less than one metre from the ground. Research shows parents underestimate the climbing ability of their children. Often poisonings happen when a child takes a developmental leap i.e. they do something for the very first time. A parent may think that a medicine is safe when stored on the bench or on top of a set of drawers because their child cannot reach it. However poisoning may occur the very first time a child drags a stool or chair over and uses it to climb up to reach the medicine.
Children can act very quickly and may only need a few moments to get into something they shouldn’t. And we know that they are also naturally curious; they learn by exploring and most things go straight into their mouths. They don’t have the ability to recognise danger or to know what substances will harm them. And many medicines and household cleaners look just like lollies or drinks to a little person.
So thinking about these risk factors of visibility and low level placement, key strategies for preventing poisoning are to store all medicines and other poisons out of reach i.e. at least one metre off the ground, out of sight and preferably locked away.
Other ways to be safe with medicines to help prevent poisoning include:
And remember it’s not just medicines that are poison.
Cleaning products, detergents, paint, turps, meths, garden products, nail polish remover can also be poisonous. The same guidelines apply for the safe storage of these products.
Remember, even if a poison is well out of reach but children can see it, they will often try to climb up to it. Always keep poisons where children can’t see them.
If you think your child may have been poisoned:
Written by: Jenny Cade
This blog provides general information and discussion about medicine, health and related subjects. The information contained in the blog and in any linked materials, are not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.
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