poisons helpline 131126

What is a poison?

Even the mildest chemicals, medicines, animals and plants can be dangerous to small or sensitive people or can become poisonous if you are exposed to enough of them.

Children under five years old are at the greatest risk of poisoning, and poisoning is one of the top three reasons why children in this age group are seen at hospital emergency departments or are admitted to hospital. Medications are the most common cause of childhood poisonings and nearly all childhood poisonings take place at home. So preventing poisonings at home is a very important way of avoiding injury in children.

Be aware that many poisonings occur when poisons are outside their normal secure storage area, e.g. just after purchase, when being used, when moving house or when visiting other people’s homes.

Common poisons

Common poisons that can be dangerous to children and adults include:

  • Medicines
    • prescription medicines, over-the-counter medicines, herbal and homeopathic products.
  • Household products
    • All types of batteries, including button batteries.
      *Button batteries can cause life threatening injuries if swallowed. Keep devices with button batteries out of reach if the battery compartments aren’t secure, and lock away loose batteries. Closely supervise children when using toys or devices containing button batteries. If you suspect a child has swallowed a button battery, go to the Hospital Emergency Department immediately. Do not let the child eat or drink. Do not induce vomiting.
    • cleaning products, including bleaches, for the kitchen, bathroom and toilet.
    • detergents for the sink, dishwasher and laundry.
    • insect sprays, baits, repellents, rat and mouse baits and pellets.
    • health and beauty products, including nail polish and remover, hair dyes, mouthwash, toothpaste, deodorant, perfume and aftershave.
    • garage/shed products including pesticides, herbicides, fertilisers, pool chemicals, handyman/building products, paints and paint thinners, petrol, antifreeze and degreasers.

  • Workplace products
    • Solvents, pesticides, paints, glues, acids, petroleum products. These can take many forms – liquids, solids, vapours, gases, fumes or dusts.
    • For information on poisons in the workplace, and minimising the risk of exposure, go to the Safework Australia website.
    • For information on farm safety, go to the Farmsafe Australia website.
  • Animals
    • snakes
    • spiders
    • insects
    • cane toads
    • marine creatures: stinging fish, jellyfish, blue-ringed octopus, cone shells.
  • Plants
    • Trees, flowers, berries, mushrooms and the sap of some plants.

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