Swallowing Harmful Substances
Updated: Jun 3, 2020
Children come in contact with harmful substances every day by accident. Around 58 children accidentally get poisoned every day in the UK. This could be from bleach, washing tablets, medicines or other common household products.
Dangerous items often carry a 'keep out of reach of children' label. Children can intake harmful substances from variety of sources, such as: batteries, alcohol, medication and cleaning material.
A poison can enter the body in a number of ways:
Inhaled Gases/fumes (nose & mouth)
Ingested/Swallowed Food, alcohol & drugs (mouth)
Injected Drugs, medicine & stings (skin)
Absorbed Chemicals/vapors (skin)
Instilled Chemicals and gases (eyes)
Symptoms will vary depending on the type of drug that has been consumed or entered the body in another way.
Common symptoms may include:
If a child has swallowed something, as a parent it is important that you try to identify the poison. This may be obvious, such as an opened medication box or cleaning solution that has been spilt. If it’s not obviously identifiable, you should look for clues and if they vomit, keep a sample of their vomit.
In order for the emergency services to establish what treatment your baby or child needs, you need to be able to provide them with the following information:
What have they swallowed?
When did they swallow this?
How did they swallow it?
What to do:
Seek medical assistance if you suspect that your baby or child is at risk of poisoning. Monitor their level of response. You should not give them any water or anything to drink because it could speed up the absorption of the substance into their body. Don't induce vomiting because, depending on what they've swallowed, it could cause further damage on the way back up. Only give them small amount of water or milk if they have swallowed something that could be caustic, as strong substances may burn their internal organs when swallowed.
Check the airway and their breathing
- If baby/child becomes unconscious but is breathing normally – hold/place in the recovery position
- If baby/child becomes unconscious but is NOT breathing normally – commence CPR!
Keep any evidence for the hospital
If the poison have got injected, such as through a bee-sting - use a credit card or the end of a blunt knife to scrape the stinger out. Don’t use tweezers as if you squeeze the stinger, it may inject more toxin into the body
If the poison has been instilled, perhaps got in their eye – run under water for 10 minutes
Seek medical assistance if their condition deteriorates
Always call 999 or 112 for an ambulance if your baby or child is unconscious, has breathing difficulties or a seizure.
Button or coin batteries are particularly dangerous as they can cause serious burns internally during a little period of time. Due to their size and shape, they can get stuck in the food pipe and cause internal bleeding and even death.
The damage after swallowing a button battery can be noticeable within just 30 minutes and if the child does not receive immediate medical help, it can be fatal. Parents seem to suspect this to have happened when their child is vomiting blood, usually this is too late. Children may also insert this type of batteries up their nose or in their ear and cause serious damage too.
If you suspect that your baby or child have swallowed a button battery, you must act fast and get them to the nearest A&E department. Inform the healthcare staff that you suspect that your child has swallowed a button battery. It is helpful to bring with you any proof that you find to the hospital. Bringing the gadget to hospital with you, can help the healthcare staff identify the type of battery that your child has swallowed.
Act fast and do not wait for any signs or symptoms. Don’t induce vomiting and do not give them anything to eat or drink, as they may require surgery.
Good resources on accident prevention by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA):
Written by Fi Ramos, Public Health Nurse & First Aid Instructor at Act2care.
Information on this site is evidence based and provided to create awareness and advice only. If you are worried about a condition, seek medical advice.
Theoretical first aid tips are beneficial, however practical demonstrations and exercises are necessary for gaining high standard of first aid knowledge and skills.
If you are interested in gaining first aid skills, contact Fi to find our more about our paediatric first aid classes at firstname.lastname@example.org