In case of poisoning...

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Poisoning can be divided into four types:
swallowed poisons
inhaled poisons
absorbed poisons (through the skin or mucous membranes)
injected poisons

Swallowed poisons
Common poisons include medication, paraffin, poisonous plants and cleaning agents.

Get help immediately if:

  • Your child is unconscious or not breathing.
  • There are any signs of poisoning. Contact your local Poison Information Centre.

Diagnosis/signs
Nausea, abdominal cramps, diarrhoea and vomiting. Difficulty breathing, coughing of blood, may or may not turn blue, lethargy and convulsion. There may be burn marks in or around the mouth.

Home treatment
If your child is not breathing, do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but first check for poisonous material around the mouth. Wash the area around the her mouth and if necessary, use a barrier device.

Establish the following:

  • what poison was taken; the amount; how the poison entered the body; when the poison was taken. Phone the Poison Information Centre and ask for instructions of what to do.
  • Keep a sample of what your child has taken, even if it is an empty container or leaves of a poisonous plant.
  • Never try to induce vomiting as this could cause further damage. Some poisons, especially corrosive substances can cause further damage during vomiting.
  • Do not give fluid, including Syrup of Ipecac, or activated charcoal unless told to do so by the Poison Information Centre.

Inhaled poisons
Common sources are carbon monoxide and gas used for heating.

Get help immediately if:
He is unconscious or not breathing.
There are any signs of poisoning. Contact your local Poison Information Centre. Have the following information: your child’s age and approximate weight, the time the poisoning occurred and the type of poison inhaled.

Diagnosis/signs
Irritated eyes, nose, throat or lungs. Coughing, headache, shortness of breath or dizziness.

Home treatment
  • Remove your child from the source of the poison to fresh air.
  • If the he is unconscious, call emergency services immediately.
  • If breathing has stopped, apply mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
  • Call the Poison Information Centre and ask for instructions of what to do.

Absorbed poisons
Common sources include pesticides and poisonous plants.

Get help immediately if:
Your child is unconscious or not breathing.
There are any signs of poisoning. Contact your local Poison Information Centre.
Have the following information: her age and approximate weight, the time the poisoning occurred and the container of the poisonous substance.

Diagnosis/signs
Redding of the skin, blisters, swelling or burns.

Home treatment
  • Flush the affected area thoroughly with cool clean water.
  • Remove any clothing that has been in contact with the poison – be careful not to touch it.
  • Wash the area carefully with soap and water.
  • If there is poison in the eye, rinse the eye with cool water for 20 minutes.
  • Keep a sample of the poisonous substance, even if it is an empty container.
  • Call the Poison Information Centre.

Injected poisons
Poisons can be injected through a hollow needle or needle-like device such as a snake’s fangs.

Get help immediately if:

  • Your child is unconscious or not breathing.
  • There are any signs of poisoning. Contact your local Poison Information Centre. Have the following information: victim’s age and approximate weight, the time the poisoning occurred and the type of poisonous substance.
  • Your child has been bitten by a snake.

Diagnosis/signs
Irritation around the point of entry. Snake bites can be identified by marks on the skin.

Home treatment
Delay the spread of the poison to the rest of the body by letting the person lie down keeping the affected limb below the heart.

Prevention of poisoning
  • Use child-resistant caps on all containers of poisonous substances and lock away.
  • Check your garden and remove all poisonous plants.
  • Don’t remove products from their original packaging.
  • Dispose of outdated medications.
  • Avoid taking medication in front of children as they may imitate you.
  • Turn the light on when giving or taking medicine.
  • Turn on the fan and open windows when using chemical products.
  • Wear protective clothing (gloves, long pants, long sleeves, socks, shoes) when spraying pesticides and other chemicals.
  • Never mix household and chemical products together. A poisonous gas may be created when mixing chemicals.
  • Do not burn fuels or charcoal or use petrol-powered engines in confined spaces such as garages.
  • Check your house for lead-based paints.
  • Ask visitors to keep their medication or other poisonous substances well out of reach of children.
  • Keep a bottle of Syrup of Ipecac activated charcoal in your first aid kit but only use it if told to do so by the Poison Information Centre.

Poison Information Centres in South Africa

Red Cross Children’s Hospital (021) 689-5227
Tygerberg Hospital: (021) 931 6129


Common poisonous plants in South Africa
  • Syringa
  • Erythrina (lucky bean)
  • Castor oil plant
  • Chincherinchee
  • Foxglove
  • Stinkblaar/Jimson weed
  • Larkspur (Delphinium)
  • Oleander
  • Acokanthera
  • Fungi (don’t handle any fungi, especially mushroom and toadstools, unless you have knowledge about fungi)
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