This week Aiden Thompson from Donegal Safety Training Solutions discusses poisoning and what we should do if someone is poisoned.
A poison is any substance, that when taken in sufficient quantities can cause harm or death to the body.
The latest statistics:
Unfortunately, the most common age group for poisoning is children between the ages of one and four, and ninety three percent of all poisons occur in the home, simply because children are crawling or walking and do not yet understand the dangers of taking such substances.
Poisons are most commonly ingested (swallowed), inhaled (as an aerosol), absorbed through the skin (chemicals) or injected into the body (drug use).
The most common cause of poisoning in 2019 was accidental poisoning accounting for sixty five percent of all cases, while ten percent of cases were recorded as acts of intentional poisoning. The most common form of substance was drugs, Paracetamol being the most frequent drug identified, followed by house hold agents with fabric cleaning liquid sachets/capsules being the most common agent.
Prevention is always better than the cure!
Most poisoning is accidental and a result of our own negligence when storing medicines and household products. We must ensure that all medication is stored out of reach of children and remain in a childproof container. All household products should be locked away in child safe presses or on shelves in our garages that are out of reach. Keep all products in their original containers and do not leave them open when we are using them as we can be easily distracted by our doorbell, phone or neighbours/friends calling in to see us. Dishwasher tablets are particularly dangerous, because they contain very high levels of chemicals which can leave very bad injuries to the mouths, airways and skin of children when they bite into them or swallow the contents.
We should never refer to our medication as Mummy or Daddy’s sweets or treats because a child will literally assume this to be the case and want to take them too. Ideally, we should not medicate in front of out toddlers at all because a child learns by imitating what it sees and will copy our actions. Lots of ladies will also have some form of medication or cosmetics in their handbags which can be left on a floor or hanging onto a chair with the zip open or the pockets accessible. Please ensure that if you do carry such products in your bag that it is secure and out of reach from young hands.
So what should I do if I suspect poisoning has occurred?
If you are a parent or older sibling and you discover a child rummaging around your “medicine drawer” at home or in the press below your sink, your first, and probably most instinctive reaction is to shout at the child to immediately stop whatever it is they are doing. This is a natural response, but it is the wrong response. If you scare or scold a child, they are likely to begin crying this will probably increase their heart rate and breathing rate, they will also swallow whatever is in their mouths and this is exactly what we do not want!
What we should do is calmly walk over to the child, ask them to spit out whatever may be in their mouth and run our fingers around their gums and under their tongue to ensure nothing remains in the mouth.
We then need to calmly ask the child how much of the substance they have taken, or how long they have been taking it. A small child may not be able to give us this information so we may need to count back by reading the prescription labels if it is in tablet form. Each prescription will have the date of issue, the number of tablets at the date of issue and the daily dose the intended recipient was meant to take. Subtract the amount already taken by the intended recipient and count what you have left now in the container. Carefully check the floor or bedsheets for any tablets that may not have been swallowed. This takes a little bit of maths, but this is a very important piece of information that we need.
Let me give you an example.
You are given a prescription of pain killers for a seven-day course. There were 21 tablets, 3 tablets per day.
You are on the third day of the course and have taken your first tablet today. (This means there are 7 tablets already gone) You discover the child and find 5 tablets left over. This means the child has taken 9 tablets.
If it is a liquid, check the volume of liquid indicated on the container label and try to guess how much is left behind, a half, a third, none of it? Unfortunately, this is a less accurate method but we can only do our best. Every container or medication will have a brand name, what it’s intended use is, the components of the content and an indication of the toxicity of the material on the presenting label. This information is very important because we now need to call for help, but who do we call? The National Poisons Information Centre, Ireland on 01-8092166
This is a free public service that operates for 365 days of the year from 8am until 10pm and is manned by healthcare professionals. If you suspect that your child has been poisoned, please ring the above number and they will guide you in what to do for that particular poison. They will ask you a series of questions and input your answers into a computer which will determine if the substance taken is actually dangerous or not. There are simply too many variants of medication and chemicals to list one simple rule for poisons.
We do not make the child vomit or give them water or something to eat before we call this number because these actions can actually make things worse. If you discover a child has taken something and the centre is now closed to the public, simply dial 999 and ask for the ambulance service who will advise you on the next steps to take.
Unfortunately, we may also discover someone who is attempting to take their own lives or are struggling with their mental health. Our first priority our own and their physical health first, once we are sure they are physically well we can then attend to any other problems by getting the appropriate professional help. Do not judge, critique or blame anyone who has taken a substance in this circumstance, this will not help them or you at this time. They may try to remove themselves from the area and collapse somewhere that we cannot find them. They may also already be in an unconscious state. As with every other emergency, our own safety must always be our first priority so we do not attempt mouth to mouth resuscitation in this circumstance in case we become ill or contaminated by the effects of the substance.
Please visit the National Poison information website here for excellent information on prevention tips, first aid for all methods of poisoning, educational resources available for children and a wide range of other information on other serious topics that we will not deal with in this article such as carbon monoxide poisoning, illicit drugs and chemicals.
I have also included a poison prevention guideline for parents/ childminders/ childcare workers or teachers with some very useful tips on how to poison proof your home or class and the Do’s and Don’ts of poison. There are also a series of questions that the poison information centre will ask you to determine what action needs to be taken.
In next week’s article we will discuss bleeding. Please don’t hesitate to call me on 0863111661 for any queries you may have or to book a course with me. Alternatively you can check out my website www.dsts.ie for further course information or to read some of the testimonials from previous courses.
I am also running a series of public Irish Heart Foundation “Heartsaver” courses on behalf of the Donegal Sports Partnership throughout Donegal in the very near future.
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for details
Aiden Thompson is a PHECC registered paramedic
and former Search And Rescue winchman with the Irish Coastguard helicopter, R118, based in Sligo. As a PHECC registered first aid instructor and an Irish Heart Foundation training site coordinator Aiden delivers the highest standard of training to members of the public.
If you would like any further information on courses available in your area, please contact Aiden on 0863111661 or visit his website www.dsts.ie for further details.