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Steps to avoid accidental poisoning when the little ones are home

Be aware of accidental poisoning in youngsters when they are home during the holidays.

As parents the world over can confirm, the curiosity of children can lead them into plenty of unforeseen and potentially dangerous scenarios.

As the summer holidays are upon us, our little ones are at home and keeping an eye on them around the clock is no easy task.

Accidental poisoning strikes where it is least expected, which is why far greater awareness is needed for everyone, not only the parents of small children.

“Approximately 90% of accidental poisonings worldwide occur within the home environment, and the majority of such cases seen in our emergency departments involve babies and very young children who have ingested something that could be harmful,” said Netcare’s national quality and systems manager for trauma and emergency, Rene Grobler.

She added that, distressingly, the average age of patients treated for accidental poisoning is just one year old. This is according to Medibank statistics, which are a record of patients attended to at Netcare hospitals’ emergency departments nationally since 2011.

“The highest number of accidental poisonings, accounting for 44%, was among children aged one year and younger. At this age babies start crawling around or using walking rings and it is surprising how quickly they can reach into unsecured cupboards or a traveller’s suitcase to access cleaning products, medicines, garden products such as pesticides, weed killers and fertiliser, or any number of potentially toxic substances,” Grobler explains.

Top safety tips to avoid accidental poisoning:

  • Store any potentially poisonous or toxic items in cupboards with safety locks, and ensure that the cupboards are locked at all times. This includes medicines, household chemicals and cleaning products, alcohol, gardening pesticides and many other common household items
  • Keep handbags, shopping bags and hand sanitiser safely out of reach
  • Make sure that visiting guests’ medicines are stored out of reach and sight of children
  • Be sure to dispose of unused medicines safely, preferably by handing them into a pharmacy
  • Choose child-resistant medication packaging, wherever possible
  • Never store anything that is not meant for human consumption in packaging associated with food and drink. Be sure to keep cleaning products in their original packaging
  • Never suggest to a child that medicines are ‘sweets’ or ‘cooldrink’.

“If you have any reason to suspect accidental poisoning, do not wait for symptoms to develop but rather seek medical care immediately.

“Many people still mistakenly believe that in cases of accidental poisoning, the person should be encouraged to vomit in order to expel the substance. In many cases, this course of action may actually cause the person further harm, and therefore expert medical advice must be sought immediately,” added Netcare’s Mande Toubkin.

Toubkin says that awareness and vigilance can help prevent accidents involving toxins in the home.

“Try to identify what poison may have been taken, and if possible establish the quantity or dose that has been consumed because these are important details for the medical professionals to determine the treatment required.”

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