Poisons

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Poison safety checklist – First Aid, prevention and safety measures for children and adults. Poison is anything which, when taken into the body, affects it adversely.

Poison safety checklist

What is a poison?

Poisons can be tablets taken in excess (of which the commonest are painkillers, sleeping tablets and iron tablets);

fruits and plants (e.g., mushrooms and berries);

chemicals (e.g., weed killers, domestic cleaning fluids and turpentine substitute (turps);

bites (such as those from a snake);

gases (like coal gas or industrial gases that are absorbed through the lungs);

and agricultural pesticides that are absorbed through the skin.

It is usually obvious what sort of poisoning is involved, so we will look at them group by group.

Swallowed poisons

Usually a child, it is difficult to know how much was swallowed unless you know how full the container was in the first place.

Poison safety checklist

Any swallowed poison must be treated seriously. Get medical help as soon as possible. Ask someone to telephone a doctor/ambulance or take the person to hospital and ask their advice (where applicable)

Always take the container along with you so that the doctor can identify the poison and so possibly remedy it quicker. Tell the ambulance people what has happened and ask their advice (where applicable).

Do not delay because children can go downhill very quickly even though they seem all right at first.

What to do while awaiting medical help

Remove excess poison from the mouth, keeping pills, berries or containers for the doctor to see.

If the person is conscious, ask what he took. Do this quickly in case he lapses into unconsciousness rapidly.

If the person is unconscious, turn him into the recovery position so that he will not suffocate or vomit. Keep any vomit to show the doctor.

Because many poisons adversely affect breathing, keep a close watch on the person. Should he stop breathing, give artificial respiration.

If the person is conscious and has swallowed a corrosive substance, get him to drink water or milk to preserve the lining of the mouth (which can also be washed out) and to dilute the stomach contents.

Remove any soaked clothing. You will know if the poison is corrosive by the chemical burning and white discolouration it leaves on the mouth, lips and clothes.

Never give anything by mouth to an unconscious person no matter what you think he has taken.

Poison safety checklist

Never give anything by mouth to an unconscious person no matter what you think he has taken.

Never make a person vomit if he has taken anything containing petrol, turpentine substitute or anything corrosive such as strong acids and alkalies.

The substance will already have done plenty of damage going down and can only do more on its way up. Give these people milk or water to drink as this helps protect the stomach lining and to some extent prevents absorption of the chemical.

Never give salt water to make the person vomit. If the person has taken poisons other than corrosives, thrust three fingers well down the back of his throat to make him vomit. Little children can be held upside down as this is done. The person may even be able to make himself sick like this.

Never try to make anyone vomit if he is unconscious.

Keep a close watch on the person until help arrives.

Some commonly swallowed poisons

All of these should be kept away from children. Although they rarely kill, they can cause many unpleasant effects. These are:

After shave lotion, Glues,  Alcohol, Insecticides, Ammonia, Lavatory cleaners, Animal medicines, Bleach , Metal polishes and Nail varnish

Drugs are among the commonest causes of accidental poisoning in children. Aspirin, other painkillers, iron tablets, anti-depressants and sleeping pills are drugs which if taken in excess lead to serious illness or even death in children.

Always keep medicines locked away out of the reach of children, preferably in a proper medicine cabinet. Many medicines come in foil strips with each tablet sealed safety away from children.

Some poisonous plants

There are surprisingly large numbers of poisonous plants. The best rule is to each your children never to such or eat anything unless given to them by their parents or by other adults whom they know.

Poison safety checklist

Most of the poisonous plants listed below are unpleasant to eat and so are difficult to consume in large enough quantities to be harmful but even so – play safe with children.

Other children can be taught which plants are dangerous but even they should be taught not to eat anything.

Should your child swallow anything but the smallest amount of any of these plants, get medical help but do not panic.

Some common examples of poisonous plants are

Aconite (all of the plant)

Broom (seeds and pods)

Bryony (berries)

Daffodil and narcissus bulbs

Daphne (berries)

Deadly nightshade (berries)

Hemlock (young leaves and unripe fruit)

Honeysuckle (berries)

Laburnum (seeds and pods)

Laurel (leaves and berries)

Lupin (seeds and ponds)

Potato (fruits and green tubers)

Agricultural poisons absorbed through the skin

There are so many chemicals used today in agriculture that it is difficult to generalize about them.

The disturbing thing is that many of them are now available for the domestic market and so can present as a hazard even if you live in a city. As the symptoms are so variable it makes sense to say:

If you ever get any strange feelings after using pesticides, weed-killers or fertilizers, do not neglect them. Vague symptoms can quickly change into serious ones, so do not delay.

Some of these poisons affect breathing, some others nerve conduction and many are absorbed through the skin or the lungs.

What to do

Stop the person using the chemical and remove him gently from the area.

Remove contaminated clothing and wash exposed areas of the skin (preferably using rubber gloves yourself).

Give artificial respiration if breathing has stopped.

Look at the container for suggested remedies. As a precaution, wear gloves when handling chemical container and send it to the hospital with the person.

If the victim is sweating a lot and is hot, fan him and sponge with tepid water.

Poisoning by gas or smoke (fumes)

Although industrial gases and vapours of various kinds are encountered by those working with them, the gases most of us come across are domestic gas, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.

It is possible to be killed by gas because if a person is trapped in an air-tight room, the gas displaces the oxygen (which he is also using up as he breathes) and the person suffocates.

Poison safety checklist

Also, if an appliance is not burning properly, poisonous carbon monoxide may be produced.

The same happens with smoke but smoke has the additional disadvantage of actually damaging the lungs.

If you find someone in a gas or smoke-filled room:

Take a few deep  breaths before entering and go in quickly, holding your breath and lift the victim to safety.

If you cannot remove him for any reason, throw open all the doors and windows, turn off the gas, leave and go back in as soon as the gas has dispersed. Do not do this if the place is on fire as it could draw the fire to the victim.

If the room is filled with smoke, a wet cloth or towel wrapped across your mouth and nose may keep a little of the smoke out of your lungs. Keep low and if you cannot lift or drag the person clear, get help.

Ask someone else to go for help and give artificial respiration if necessary.

If the person is overcome by exhaust fumes in a closed garage, open doors, switch off the engine and proceed as above.

Prevention note

Have all gas appliances serviced regularly (at least once a year)

Never meddle with appliances yourself and never block up ventilators – natural gas burns safely with plenty of air but produces poisonous carbon monoxide if it has too little air.

Never leave the car engine running in a closed garage – the poisonous carbon monoxide in the exhaust can overcome you quicker than you think.

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