What is the most common poison that takes more children’s lives than any other?

You might think it is bleach, drain cleaner, paint, or acid…

What is the most common poison that takes more children’s lives than any other? / Kids First Aid

Nope. The most dangerous poison is paracetamol!

Firstly, we need to point out that paracetamol is a very safe drug when used correctly.

However, the problem with this common medicine is that it is far too easy for children to access. We have them in our cupboards, car glovebox, handbags, and in the bathroom. They are available at service stations, supermarkets, and corner stores. Our toddlers see adults taking them, they look like lollies, and they even come in special little wrappers that make an exciting crinkly and pop noise when they are released. How could any child resist them?!?!

We are often asked what a lethal dose of paracetamol would be for a toddler. To give you some idea 4 tablets would be too much for a child weighing 10kgs. However, there may be other factors that impact the severity of the dose:

  • is the child having any other regular medications?
  • are they sick and/or dehydrated?
  • are they allergic to paracetamol?
  • is it a combination drug – Panadol Extra, Panafen, Nuromol, Panadeine, Paracetamol + Caffeine, Osteo Relief, Mersynofen or many others?

It is worth noting that the following have very high risks associated with just 1-3 tablet ingestions:

  • Beta blockers eg propranolol
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Chloroquine / hydroxychloroquine
  • Ecstasy and other amphetamines
  • Oral hypoglycaemics
  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Theophylline

Please don’t ignore the toxicity of natural remedies or essential oils.

Essential oils are a common household product used for medicinal, aromatic, cleaning and other purposes. Toxicity can occur from the essential oil itself along with the hydrocarbons or emulsifiers added to many of the preparations.

As little as 2-3 mL ingestions have been associated with toxicity in children for some essential oils. Here are some examples – Clove oil, Fennel, Geranium, Lavender oil, Lemon Myrtle, Nutmeg, Thuja, Wintergreen, Wormwood, and Eucalyptus oil.

Children are more susceptible than adults to essential oil poisonings as they have:

  • thin skin which leads to increased absorption of oils, emulsifiers and other agents;
  • a higher surface area to weight ratio and so they are impacted more with less liquid; and
  • an increased respiratory rate which leads to quicker inhalation of mists and sprays.

If you are at all worried please call the Poisons Information Hotline on 13 11 26. The team at the Poisons Info centre are truly world class specialists, no-one compares to them in terms of knowledge of all medicines, poisons, chemicals, etc. They are highly qualified and are available 24/7. If the matter is serious they can put you straight through to 000. Make sure that you have your child and the packet of medicine with you in case they ask you specific questions about them.

What is the most common poison that takes more children’s lives than any other? / Kids First Aid

What does all of this mean for the worried parent who is sitting at home alone with a sickly child at 2 a.m.?

Our top tips for safety with all medicines:

  • keep all medicines well out of reach of children.
    • *hint* leaving them on your bedside table is a common mistake!
  • only keep what you need for a day in your handbag, wallet, sports bag, glovebox of your car.
    • that way if they do happen to find them it won’t be a high dose.

First aid for poisoning:

  • Call 000, ask for Ambulance and be ready to give them your address.
  • Keep the child calm and reassure them that the Ambulance is on the way.
  • If they have swallowed the poison:
    • Do NOT give the child anything to eat or drink.
    • Do NOT try to get the child to vomit.
  • If the poison is on their skin then flush the area with cool, fresh water for at least 15 minutes.
    • A lot of cleaning products are clear and sticky and so it may be difficult to see if it has all been removed. Keep flushing to make sure.
  • If the poison is in their eye, use an eye cup with saline fluid, place it up to the affected eye so that it will bathe the eyeball, gently tilt their head back and get them to keep blinking so that the solution clears the poison away. You may need to do this several times.
    • Alternatively, try taking them to the bathroom and run a cool, gentle shower, keep putting their face into the stream of water and get them to keep blinking.
  • If the poison (i.e. fumes from bleach, chlorine, or acid) has been inhaled get them outside into fresh air and do deep breathing with them to get all of the poison out of their lungs.

This information was compiled from the following sources:

  • The Poisons Information Hotline
  • The Sydney Children’s Hospital Network
  • Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne
  • Toxnet