How to keep your children safe from poisons in the home

Margaret Jennings says almost 5,000 children under the age of 10 ingested a poison in the home last year — usually either a medicine or household cleaning product.

It’s Christmas Day, Santa has visited and your child is totally absorbed in the colourful squidgy toy — squeezing it, biting it, bringing a curiosity to this new item in its hands.

Except it’s not a toy, nor a sweet — it’s a liquid detergent pod, which perhaps was left lying around, in all the hustle and bustle of the festive season, ready for the next cycle of numerous dishes that need to get washed.

Shortly aferwards your child could be vomiting or the liquid could have squirted into his or her eyes. Or that little one could end up in intensive care, as was the situation with one case referenced in the annual report of the National Poisons Information Centre (NPIC) for 2015.

“We are particularly concerned about liquid detergent capsules because there has been an 8% increase in calls about them and as a share of a market they are over representative,” says clinical director of the NPIC, Dr Edel Duggan. “And more than 90% of them are in children under the age of five.

“The centre received more than 9,600 calls in total last year, with more than 50% of those in relation to children under the age of 10, and a significant number under age of five,” says Dr Duggan. “Medicines are the most common issues we get calls about then followed by household cleaning products.”

However during Christmas, adults can be particularly off-guard, as routines are put aside, or in many cases there are the distractions of guests coming and going.

“We always say ‘out of sight out of reach’ and this is the case in particular with the liquid detergent capsules and other household cleaners. Although the majority of the symptoms would be minor, on occasions we get moderate to severe cases,” she says.

It’s important, she points out, that parents are put on guard: “Sometimes for example, children like to help out doing chores and it might be a natural thing to give the child the detergent capsule to put into the dishwasher to help out, but it’s important to be aware of the dangers and of keeping them out of reach.”

Another risk posed at Christmas is from room oil reed diffusers, which can tempt the curiosity of youngsters if left at reachable level.

“It’s important to make people aware of the risks. They come in a glass jar that contains a carrier oil and then a fragrance oil and the carrier oil brings the fragrance oil up to the reeds.

“The carrier oil and the fragrance oil can both cause symptoms if the child drinks it. If they injested some of the liquid then we would have to refer them into hospital because of some of the risks of the serious symptoms they can cause.”

The ones that contain essential oils, such as clove oil or cinnamon, peppermint oil or wintergreen oil can have a quite severe symptoms if they are swallowed. They can cause nausea, vomiting, seizures even in severe cases, liver failure — some of the symptoms can be very severe,” says Dr Duggan. “It can be a delayed response up to a few hours sometimes. The child wouldn’t have to drink a huge amount – it would depend on the oil, but especially with essential oil, even a small amount if undiluted, can cause serious symptoms.

How to keep your children safe from poisons in the home

“The carrier oil is alcohol based so it can cause drowsiness or signs of inebriation, but if it goes into the lungs, or the child starts vomiting it can cause problems with the lungs.”

The NPIC also gets calls from worried parents who have caught their children eating holly berries, which may look like sweets to younger children. Although they are quite bitter to taste and usually get spat out, if eaten in larger quantities — five or more, there could be bigger problems.

“It depends on the quantity injested, but it’s good to be aware. A small amount will cause stomach upset but if five or more of the holly berries are taken, then we can get vomiting and diarrhoea in children.”

Household cleaners are a high risk and at Christmas, items such as oven cleaners are in full use.

“Oven cleaners for instance can cause severe symptoms because they can be quite corrosive. They are easy to injest and can cause burns to the mouth and can also corrode the stomach,” says Dr Duggan. “Keep those cleaners locked away always. Keep the products in their original containers. Don’t put them into a 7Up bottle or something like that, because the label on the container can give very important information if the product has been injested. But prevention is better than cure, so once you use the product put it back in a safe place locked away from children.”

Another risk at Christmas are those little button batteries that can be used for toys. If a small child swallows one it can cause an obstruction in the feeding tube and cause corrosion and burning of the lining of the stomach and the oesophagus, warns Dr Duggan.

We tend to put breakages out of the way for kids, but if we approach rooms with a view to looking at what are potentially poisonous items — and abide by the ‘out of sight out of reach’ approach, our homes would be much safer and our Christmas risk-free.

You can contact the NPIC at 01-8092166;

Poison proof

  • Keep medicines and chemicals out of reach and out of sight of children.
  • Keep household cleaning products and laundry products in a cupboard where your child can’t see them or reach them.
  • Keep all products in their original containers. Try to use containers with safety caps but remember these are child-resistant, not child-proof.
  • Read labels to avoid mistakes: follow the instructions carefully on household products.
  • Talk to your GP or pharmacist if you have any questions about the label on medicines.
  • Teach children to always ask the adult minding them if something is safe to eat or drink.
  • Do not leave containers open when using them.
  • Do not transfer products from their original containers into another container.
  • Do not remove labels from medicines, chemicals or household products.
  • Do not take medicine in front of children as they often copy adults.
  • Do not leave household products unattended while in use.
  • Do not mix cleaning products or use two different products at the same time.
  • Some mixtures can produce a toxic gas.

From the National Poison Information Centre website


Tis the season for sequins and excess, but minimalists can stick to their style guns in the season’s next level neutrals. From low-key glitz that’s perfect for party wear to the wardrobe heroes with trans-seasonal appeal, slide into neutral for maximum style with minimal effort. Carolyn Moore reports.Low-key glitz for minimalists with this season's neutrals

How to plump, hydrate and get rid of spots fast before your Christmas party.Getting your quick fix for the festive party season

Irish photographer Seamus Murphy brought music star PJ Harvey to Afghanistan to film part of their documentary, writes Esther McCarthy.Headlong into the war zone in new documentary

Kya deLongchamps shows us how to champion our environmentWinter greens: How to champion our environment this season

More From The Irish Examiner