What to Do If Your Child is Poisoned

Finding an empty medication bottle and an unresponsive child can be a parent’s worst nightmare. Most child poisonings occur in the home – up to 95% – and around three million people, most under five years old, suffer from poisoning every year. 

If you find a child with an open or empty container that may have held a toxic substance, they may require immediate medical care.

For children experiencing unresponsiveness, seizures, or trouble breathing, call 911 or have someone do it for you as you administer CPR. If you are alone, perform CPR for two minutes, then call 911.

If the child is responsive, not seizing, and breathing normally but you suspect poisoning, call Poison Control at 888-222-1222.

Most poisonings occur in one- to two-year-old children because they’re at a stage where they can walk, climb, and get into more mischief than before. The newly found independence requires parents and caregivers to put dangerous items out of sight and reach. 

First Aid for Child Poisoning

If the child exhibits any of the following symptoms and you suspect poisoning or exposure to toxic substances, call poison control or go to the closest emergency room:

  • Sore throat
  • Trouble breathing
  • Drowsiness, irritability, or jumpiness
  • Nausea, vomiting, or stomach pain without fever
  • Lip or mouth burns or blisters
  • Unusual drooling
  • Strange odors on the child’s breath
  • Unusual stains on the child’s clothing

Try to find the container so you can describe the substance to poison control or the ER personnel. It should list the ingredient or medication name, the dosage per unit, the prescribing doctor, and the name and phone number of the pharmacy.

Be prepared with the child’s age and weight, symptoms, medical history, and how much of the toxin you believe the child consumed or their route of exposure (ingestion, inhalation, or eye or skin contact). Include the time you found the child and any medication they take.

Poison control or the ER physician will instruct you on what to do next to get your child treated.

Common Causes of Poisoning in Children

The four most common causes of child poisoning are medicine ingestion, pesticide exposure, cleaning agent ingestion, alcohol or drug ingestion, and carbon monoxide exposure.


The most common cause of child poisoning is ingesting medication. Depending on the drug, a single tablet can kill a small child. Such medications include: 

  • Barbiturates 
  • Opioids 
  • Medications for high blood pressure
  • Diabetes medications
  • Medications for mental health

Before administering any medication to a child, read and follow the label instructions carefully. Only use medicine prescribed for the child because the doctor has considered the child’s weight to specify a safe dosage.

Never use a household spoon to measure liquid medication. Use the accompanying measuring cup, dropper, syringe, or other dosing devices to ensure accurate administration.

Store all medications out of reach and behind a locked cabinet. Many children’s medicines taste sweet and encourage children to ingest them. Communicate often with your spouse or other caregivers to avoid giving multiple doses of a medicine. Read the label if you give medicines with multiple ingredients, so the child doesn’t receive too much of a specific drug like acetaminophen.

Pesticide Exposure

Pesticide exposure is the next most common cause of poisoning in children after medicines. Because the US only tracks insecticides, the incident number is artificially low, but pesticides also include:

  • Fumigants 
  • Herbicides 
  • Rodenticides 
  • Fungicides 

Many contain compounds like carbamates, organophosphates, pyrethrins, and organochlorine compounds, all of which are extremely dangerous. The symptoms vary, but if your child has come into contact with these pesticides, rush them to the ER.

Cleaning Agent Ingestion

Cleaning agents contain caustic chemicals capable of burning human tissue. If a child swallows a cleaner or sanitizer, they can suffer esophageal burns and other serious injuries, even with small amounts of liquid. Keep cleaners locked in a cabinet and use them when the children are not around. Never mix bleach and ammonia when cleaning — it creates chloramine gas, which is dangerous for everyone.

Try using liquid or powder laundry detergent instead of pods or packets until your children are at least six years old.

Alcohol and Drug Ingestion

Alcohol is present in perfume, sanitizers, over-the-counter cold medicine, and mouthwash. A young child drinking alcohol can suffer low blood sugar, seizures, and coma. Since many states have legalized marijuana, many adults use edibles infused with THC or CBD. Children confuse edibles with candy or other foods and overdose by eating too many. 

Keep everything containing alcohol, marijuana, THC, or CBD out of the reach of children.

Drugs of abuse should be kept out of the house or locked away. These drugs can cause children to have seizures, respiratory depression (trouble breathing), and unconsciousness. Since they are small, they can easily suffer a fatal overdose.

Carbon Monoxide Exposure

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas emitted when you burn hydrocarbons (poisons in themselves). If the child is in an enclosed space with little ventilation, carbon monoxide easily overcomes them. It can kill them if they are not treated in time.

Common devices that put out carbon monoxide include:

  • Heating systems
  • Charcoal grills
  • Generators 
  • Engine-driven tools
  • Camp stoves and lanterns
  • Gas ovens and ranges
  • Gas water heaters

Exposure causes dizziness, nausea, and sleepiness. If the child is not taken into the fresh air, they could lapse into a coma.

Install carbon monoxide detectors in your home and test them regularly. Never leave a car running in an attached or closed garage.

Some garden plants, liquid nicotine used in e-cigarettes, and other substances can also poison children. Liquid nicotine can kill a child who consumes even a small amount or has any spilled on their skin.

Family First ER Works Fast

If you believe your child is poisoned and requires breathing assistance or resuscitation, call 911. 

For other cases of poisoning that need more treatment than you can provide at home, visit Family First ER. We know how scary child poisoning is, and we don’t hesitate to begin diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible. 

We have experienced physicians, nurses, and staff available around the clock. Your child is safe with us.