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What should I do if my child has swallowed poison?

What should I do if my child has swallowed poison?

Do not panic! Remain calm and call a poison centre as soon as possible
In most cases, children will require little or no treatment following an exposure to something poisonous.

If the child is awake
  • Remain calm
  • Protect yourself from poisoning
  • Ring the National Poisons Centre on 0800 POISON (0800 764 766)
  • Do not make child vomit (vomiting is not effective at removing a swallowed substance. Vomit can sometimes be inhaled into the lungs, causing lung injury.
  • Bring the medicine or chemical container to phone if possible
  • Rinse or wipe the mouth out to clear away any remaining substance. Do not give fluids unless instructed to do so by the Poisons Centre.

If the child is sleepy or unconscious:
  • Check their pulse, ensure they are breathing
  • Place in recovery position
  • Ring an ambulance

If the child is not breathing or does not have a pulse
  • Call an ambulance
  • Apply CPR

Following eye exposures:
  • Flush eye with room-temperature water for at least 15 minutes (do not use an eye bath or eye drops)
  • Get eye examination performed at Medical Center or Hospital.

What happens at the hospital?

Children who need assessment at the hospital may require:
  • Medical observation for a set time period
  • Activated charcoal. This is sometimes given as a slurry to adsorb some of the poison from the stomach. It may not be effective in some cases.
  • Monitoring of heart, lungs, breathing, fluids and salts depending on what they were poisoned by.
  • Sometimes more treatment might be needed, such as specific antidotes

Related Resources
Plants in New Zealand Poisonous To Children - A pamphlet detailing many plants available in New Zealand that are poisonous to children
Prevent Poisoning: Keeping Children Safe From Poisons - A brochure on general poisoning prevention information including home safety tips
Put Your Kid's Safety First - A brochure detailing the risk of dishwasher detergents and simple safety tips for their use

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University of Otago NZ National Poisons Centre

Last updated 15/11/2012

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