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When should I call the Poison Center?

Call IMMEDIATELY any time you think your child has swallowed a poison.

Be prepared to answer the following questions:

  • What was swallowed?
  • How much was swallowed?
  • When was it swallowed?
  • Does your child have any symptoms?

What if acids, alkalis, or petroleum products are swallowed?

Acidic and alkaline substances and petroleum products include toilet bowl cleaners, oven cleaners, drain cleaners, lye, automatic dishwasher detergent, laundry pods, and gel packs. They also include ammonia, bleaches, kerosene, gasoline, benzene, furniture polish, and lighter fluid. If your child vomits after swallowing these, more damage to the esophagus or lungs can occur.

  • First Aid

    Do not try to make your child throw up. Give your child 2 or 3 ounces of water (or milk) to drink to wash out the esophagus. Do not give your child too much fluid or it could cause your child to vomit. Keep your child sitting or standing to protect the esophagus. Do not let him lie down. Go to the nearest emergency room. Bring the container the poison was in with you.

What if drugs, chemicals, or plants are swallowed?

The National Poison Center hotline number is 1-800-222-1222. This number will automatically connect you with your local poison center. If your child swallows a substance that might be poisonous, call the this hotline immediately for assistance.

Do not make your child throw up. Do not use syrup of ipecac for poisonings. In 2003, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that syrup of ipecac no longer be used as a home treatment for poisonings. If you have any ipecac in your home, get rid of it by flushing it down the toilet.

What are some harmless substances?

Fortunately, many children will swallow nonedible substances that do not cause any symptoms and are considered poisonous. Some examples of nontoxic substances are:

  • Candles
  • Chalk, crayons, paper, ballpoint pens, felt tip pens, or pencils (the "lead" is actually graphite)
  • Hand lotions or body creams
  • Dog/cat food or cat litter
  • Deodorants, detergents, toothpaste, or hand soaps
  • Dirt
  • Silica granules
  • Petroleum jelly, shampoos, shaving cream, or suntan lotions

Call your healthcare provider to make sure that what your child swallowed is harmless.

Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick,” American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.3 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-06-10
Last reviewed: 2015-06-11
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 Barton D. Schmitt, MD FAAP. All rights reserved.
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