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, acute anaphylaxis and can be fatal – 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 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, the packaging will be helpful.
  • If the child shows any change in behaviour, starts to vomit or become 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.

If it is a corrosive substance such as a dishwasher tablet – please see  what to do if your child swallows a dishwasher tablet


The Childhood Accident Prevention Trust www.capt.org.uk and Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents http://www.rospa.com/ 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 could be 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 (particularly berry bearing Christmas plants) are toxic. Plants can be checked through the Royal Horticultural Society www.rhs.org.uk or by asking your local florist or horticultural nursery.

Poisonous plants

Mistletoe is poisonous; its berries contain toxins that slow the heart rate and cause hallucinations. The orange berries on the Christmas cherry can cause stomach pains. The Christmas rose causes such violent diarrhoea the ancient Greeks allegedly used it as a chemical weapon!

  • If you suspect a child has eaten a berry, calmly establish what they have eaten and 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 inthe recovery position – if not start CPR.child resus with mask

It is strongly advised that you attend a Practical First Aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency. Please visit firstaidforlife.org.uk emma@firstaidforlife.org.uk 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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