Harm-free home

If you are not careful your own home could be a danger zone for your toddler. Here, three paediatricians give useful tips on how to avoid accidental poisoning
By Kumudini Hettiarachchi, Pix by M.A. Pushpa Kumara

Just the word ‘home’ conjures up a vision of comfort and safety. But is your home really safe for your son or daughter? Take a look around and you will see the many dangers lying all over your home, unwittingly and thoughtlessly left by you as a parent.

In this first part of a series on “home accidents”, three eminent doctors from the College of Paediatricians lead you around your own home and garden to pinpoint the dangers which could lead to accidental poisoning, in a bid to create awareness on how you can prevent them.

Dr. Kalyani Guruge Dr. Deepal Perera Dr. Deepal Perera

A majority of home accidents take place during the holidays, stresses Consultant Paediatrician Dr. Kalyani Guruge of the Lady Ridgeway Hospital (LRH) for Children, explaining that during school time there is a routine and a particular person who takes on the responsibility of looking after children.

When that routine changes within the home due to the holidays or when organizing a function at home, adults are less vigilant about children, she says, adding that the same situation can arise when on a visit to someone else’s home.

Toddlers face many a danger within the home and older children outside the home, MediScene understands, with more boys than girls being prone to home accidents. Some home accidents are more common in a less-privileged setting (with storing stuff such as kerosene, less supervision of children and also use of cheaper and unsafe electrical appliances).

There are two peaks among children for home accidents – 3-5 year-olds being more vulnerable to accidental poisoning and 10-14 year-olds facing more trauma such as falls and fractures by attempting to follow exciting games after watching TV etc, it is learnt.

Pesticide bottles should be kept well away from the reach of children.
Be mindful where you place nail varnish bottles

Zeroing on the “red” areas where poison dangers are rampant, Dr. Guruge picks out the kitchen and the toilet. Even your vehicle may have things which could endanger children, she says.

Accidental poisoning can occur from the simplest things in your home, points out Consultant Paediatrician Dr. Udaya de Silva of the Mannar General Hospital, citing the example of a little child who had drunk nail polish. By the time the child was brought to hospital the mother had tried to “neutralize” the effect of nail polish by making the child drink nail-polish remover. “This is dangerous and makes matters worse,” he says.

The instances of cosmetic product ingestion are many, says Dr. Guruge, giving the instance of a little one who had drunk a papaya face wash. Attractive and colourful labels are deadly lures for children while mistaking one bottle for another could also cause accidental poisoning, explains Consultant Paediatrician Dr. Deepal Perera of the LRH.

“Many parents store toxic or poisonous liquids in soft-drink bottles or even bottles that usually have water and it is natural for children to take a long sip,” he says.

Parents themselves can confuse the bottles, adds Dr. Guruge, pointing out an instance when a mother had kept a bottle of medicine side by side with another bottle which had a medication that had to be applied externally. “The lights had gone out and when it was time to give the child her medicine, the mother picked the wrong bottle in the dark.”

The other dangers come from parents who store chemicals used in their work at home, MediScene learns. Some of the examples given by the paediatricians are:

  • A photographer may keep toxic chemicals which he uses to wash the film
  • A farmer may keep agricultural chemicals such as weedicides and insecticides and someone in the rubber industry may keep acids used for that work
  • An industrial worker may store battery acids and other chemicals
  • A printer may keep ink and a computer worker laser toner, printing cartridge ink etc.

Dr. Guruge takes what we see commonly in most homes and offices – the paper weight filled with liquid and other attractive trinkets. “A child had removed the cover and actually drunk the liquid,” she says.
Most parents assume that keeping things out of reach is adequate, but toddlers are very adventurous, they climb, they pull and they copy – so poisonous or toxic stuff must not only be kept out of reach but also locked up.

Do a check around your home, request the paediatricians, and lock up all the things that could cause harm. Keep the key safely out of reach. When a child reaches an age when he/she can understand, teach them the dangers, make them aware.

Most of all be vigilant, is the message. Keep a close eye on your child at all times, for it is better to be safe than sorry later.

How poisoning can occur

Accidental poisoning may occur through inhalation, ingestion, skin contact or injection, MediScene learns.

The types of accidental poisoning that may occur within the familiar environment of the home or car:

  • Household chemicals – cosmetic products such as nail polish and varnish and also remover, lipstick, face wash, shampoo, toothpaste and soap; detergents such as toilet cleaners; mosquito coils and repellents; fuels including the commonly used kerosene; vehicle maintenance chemicals including those used to cool the radiator etc, thinner, paint, polish and wood preservatives
  • Medicines – tablets, syrups and applications
  • Pesticides and other toxic/poisonous substances
  • Snake and insect bites

Beautiful but deadly plants

Aththana Olinda Beheth endaru

A major hazard could also be posed by some attractive plants which a child can come into contact within the garden at home, pre-school, school and day-care centre or even in a park where the child is taken for a picnic.

Urging extra caution, Dr. Deepal Perera warns that sometimes even the mother can make a mallun of a toxic plant, mistaking it for the leaves of a commonly eaten plant.

Beware of these plants, say the paediatricians:

  • Kaneru or Oleander, both yellow and pink are very poisonous
  • Olinda or Abrus, the tender seeds of which children tend to pop into their mouths are highly poisonous. A mother had given olinda seeds for a bigger child to make a necklace but the little one who was watching had chewed up a few with tragic consequences.
  • Aththana or Datura
  • Weta endaru or Jatropha and beheth endaru or ricinus
  • Niyangala or Gloriosa superba
  • Haberala or Alocasia
  • Difenbachia

What you should do in an emergency

If you suspect that your child has got accidentally poisoned, bring him/her to the closest hospital immediately, urge the doctors, stressing that vomiting should not be induced.

Bring the residue of the suspected poison, the bottle from which the child has swallowed the liquid or the plant to help doctors identify what the substance is to target specific treatment, request the paediatricians.

Stressing that vomiting should not be induced, Dr. Guruge says that sometimes when the toxic substance was being swallowed there may not have been much damage but when it comes back up again due to induced vomiting it can cause more harm.

If there has been contact with a toxic substance, however, wash that part of the body (eye, mouth or body itself) with plain water thoroughly for about 15-20 minutes and bring the child to hospital, they add.

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