How to help if my child eats something poisonous?

A poison is any substance (a solid, liquid, or a gas) which can cause damage if it enters the body in sufficient quantities.

A poison can be swallowed, breathed in, absorbed through the skin or injected.

Some poisons cause an all over reaction: and can result in seizures, blurred vision, a major allergic reaction and can be fatal – if you suspect that a child has been exposed to a potentially harmful substance, be cautious and always get the child quickly seen by a medical professional

  • If you suspect that a child has taken a harmful substance. Calmly establish what is missing, if it has been eaten and if any has been swallowed.
  • If the child is perfectly well call 111 or the emergency services and give as much information as you can.
  • If a berry has been eaten, take a photo and leaf from the plant to help it to be identified. Keep the child calm and still as running around will increase their metabolism. If it is a tablet or substance contained within packaging, retain as much evidence as possible as to what has been taken and information on the packaging.
  • If the child shows any change in behaviour, starts to vomit or becomes drowsy. Call an ambulance and explain clearly what has happened. Do not take them to hospital in the car unless advised to do so by the emergency services.


The Childhood Accident Prevention Trust and Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents both work to prevent accidents in children and their websites are full of really useful tips and advice.

  • Keep all potentially harmful substances out of reach of small children and ideally in a locked cupboard. This includes; dishwasher tablets, medicines, alcohol, cosmetics, DIY, cleaning and gardening products
  • Ensure that Grandparents, Child Carers and visitors are also mindful about leaving potentially hazardous substances within reach – the contents of many hand bags are often fascinating and lethal to a small child!
  • Never decant medication or other products into different containers, always use the original containers, clearly labelled, with childproof lids if possible
  • Keep batteries out of reach of small children and ensure that batteries in their toys are firmly secured.
  • Fit carbon monoxide alarms and have appliances and alarms regularly checked.
  • Be aware of harmful plants – many decorative plants are toxic. Plants can be checked through the Royal Horticultural Society or by asking your local florist or horticultural nursery.

Corrosive substances:

How to help if my child eats something poisonous?

  • Cleaning products and dishwasher tablets are strong alkali and burn if swallowed. If you suspect a child has eaten a dishwasher tablet, or drunk some cleaning product; if possible, calmly establish what has happened and consult the advice on the packaging. Remove any obvious residue from around the child’s mouth and encourage them to rinse their mouth with milk or water. If they have swallowed the substance, give them small sips of milk or water. Keep everything as calm as possible and phone for an ambulance, giving as much information as you can.
  • Do not make the child sick as the substance will have burnt on the way down and this will encourage it to burn again on the way up, causing more damage.
  • If they begin to lose consciousness and you need to give CPR, protect yourself from the corrosive substance using a face shield.
  • If you find a child has eaten a button battery from a watch, or one of their toys; they will need to be taken to Accident and Emergency for an X-ray. A battery will burn through the intestinal wall and you may not be aware there is a problem until the child becomes unwell. Ensure batteries are always secure within gadgets and keep them out of reach of small children.

Poisonous plants:

  • If you suspect a child has eaten a plant or berry, calmly try and establish if anything has been swallowed. Encourage them to spit out anything obvious and remain still, as running around increases their metabolism. Call 111 or 999 and they will consult the poisons database and let you know what should be done. If the child has any change in behaviour, begins to vomit, become sleepy – phone an ambulance immediately. If they lose consciousness – check they are breathing – if so, put them in the recovery position – if not start CPR.


It is strongly advised that you attend a Practical or online First Aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency. Please visit, or tel 0208 675 4036 for more information about our courses. First Aid for life provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information.

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