Just in Case

Poisons and medicines

Most people have potentially harmful chemicals in their homes – in the kitchen and laundry cupboards, in the garden shed and even in the medicine cupboard. Poisoning is the third most
common ‘accident’ leading to hospitalisation in Australia – and most of these poisoning accidents occur in the home.

What is a poison?

Anything that causes illness when it’s absorbed by the body is a poison – which means that any product or medicine used incorrectly can be a poison.

Substances that can be poisons include:
  • Drugs and medicines, including paracetamol, cough and cold preparations, sleeping tablets
  • Cleaning products such as dishwashing detergents and drain cleaners
  • Cosmetics, perfumes and nail polish remover
  • Cigarettes
  • Garden fertilisers, paint and paint thinners
  • Other common household products such as petrol, pool chlorine, alcohol, herbicides, pesticides, glue, mothballs and mouse bait
  • Poisonous plants such as oleander, rhus and stickweed.
Poisoning can occur when a substance is swallowed, inhaled, spilt on the skin, splashed into the eye or injected.

Anything that causes illness when it’s absorbed by the body is a poison.

How can my family and I stay safe from accidental poisoning?

Many poisonings occur when products or medicines are not replaced in their usual storage locations – for example, when they are left on a bedside or kitchen table.

You and your parents can help keep your family safe by following these guidelines:
  • Keep potentially poisonous substances out of the reach of children who may not recognise the danger
  • Don’t leave open packets or bottles containing poisons unattended
  • Seal tightly and put products away immediately after use
  • Store poisons in a locked or child-resistant cupboard kept out of the reach of small children
  • Keep food separate from poisons
  • Buy household products in child-resistant packaging
  • Keep laundry products in a high or locked cupboard
  • Keep sheds and garages locked
  • Keep products in their original, clearly labelled containers – never in cups or soft-drink bottles
  • Always follow directions on the product closely when painting, spraying the garden or cleaning the oven.
What can my parents do to prevent accidents with medicines?

Your parents should try and avoid taking medicines in the presence of small children who may imitate them.

They should also be aware of the dangers of giving you or other family members more than the recommended dose of any medication, and should never give one person medicine prescribed to someone else without checking with a medical professional first - even if they believe the illness to be the same.

Your family should also:
  • Keep out of children’s reach any visitors’ bags that may contain medicines or cosmetics
  • Clean out the family medicine cupboard regularly
  • Take unwanted and out-of-date medicines to your local pharmacy for disposal
  • Make sure medicines are kept out of children’s reach, and that their purpose and the date of purchase/use by date are clearly identified
  • Put away immediately – or at least out of reach - any shopping that includes potentially poisonous products.
Many poisonings occur when products or medicines are not replaced in their usual storage locations.

What should I do if I, or someone near me, may have been poisoned?

Unconscious patient:

1. Follow DRS ABCD
2. Ensure a call for an ambulance has been made—triple zero (000)
3. Call the fire brigade if the atmosphere becomes contaminated with smoke or gas.

Conscious patient:

1. Follow DRS ABCD
2. Listen to patient. Give reassurance but not advice
3. Try to determine the type of poison taken
4. Call 13 11 26 for Poisons Information Centre
5. Send any vomit, containers and/or suicide notes with patient to hospital.

  • Do not induce vomiting unless advised to do so by Poisons Information Centre
  • Do not give anything by mouth (ie. water or milk)
  • Wash substances off mouth and face with water.

Sources: St John, Better Health Channel.

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