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Medicine and poisons safety in the home

6-minute read

If your child has been exposed to a poison and is having trouble breathing or is drowsy or unconscious, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.

Key facts

  • Young children often put things in their mouth to explore their taste and texture.
  • Children are at increased risk of poisoning when your family routine is changed.
  • It is best to store medicines and poisons out of sight and out of reach of children.

Why is my child at risk of poisoning?

Young children are exploring their world but aren't aware of dangers. They will often put things in their mouth to explore their taste and texture. They also like to imitate what adults do, including taking medicines.

When is my child most at risk of poisoning?

Children are at increased risk of poisoning when your family routine is changed. This might be when you're:

  • on holiday
  • have visitors who take medicines
  • moving house

What household products can poison my child?

Poisonings at home often involve young children playing with:

  • medicines
  • cosmetics
  • cleaning products

Medicines can be:

Poisons at home can include:

  • disinfectant, bleach and dishwasher powder
  • essential oils (such as eucalyptus oil)
  • button batteries
  • insect and weed killer
  • alcohol or illicit drugs
  • glue and paint

How can I help prevent a poisoning at home?

Safe use of medicines

These tips can help you use and store your medicines safely:

  • Ask for child-safety caps on your medicines and use all child-resistant packaging as instructed.
  • Check that you can open and close child-safety caps before you leave the pharmacy.
  • Avoid taking medicines when children are watching as children copy grown-ups.
  • Never refer to tablets as 'lollies' — this makes them attractive to children.
  • Take any unwanted or out-of-date medicines to your local pharmacy.

Safe storage of medicines and poisons

  • Store medicines and poisons up high in a locked cupboard — out of reach and out of sight of your child.
  • Keep medicines, poisons and household chemicals in the original packaging — never transfer them into food or drink containers.
  • Always read the labels on medicines and poisons, so that you know how to use them correctly.
  • Don't store chemicals in old drink bottles.

Child safe caps

Some medicines and poisons are packaged in containers with child-safety caps. These caps have to be:

  • squeezed and turned at the same time
  • pushed down and turned at the same time

These safety caps may be difficult to open. While they increase the time it takes for a child to open the package, they're not completely child-proof.

Some people (especially older people) might find it difficult to open and close containers with child-safe caps. However, it's important not to transfer the contents into another container.

Always make sure the cap is put back on correctly. Store your medicine both out of sight and out of reach of children.

Blister packs

Some medicines are packaged in foil and blister packs. These are hard to open but can't be re-closed. Once open, the contents are easily available to children.

Safe storage, both out of sight and out of reach of children, is the best protection from accidental poisoning.

E-cigarettes and vaping products

In recent years, accidental exposure to e-cigarettes and vaping products has risen in young children. In 2021, the NSW Poisons Information Centre report over 120 calls for children under the age of 4 years old.

Common symptoms in toddlers exposed to vapes (or e-cigarettes) and vaping liquid are coughing, severe coughing fits and vomiting. In serious cases, it can also cause loss of consciousness and seizures.

Vapes and vaping liquid should be kept of out the reach of children and stored safely.

Child safety tips

Try to always keep an eye on what your child is doing.

When you have visitors, make sure their bags are out of reach, in case they contain medicines.

Medicines for babies and children

In Australia, children under 5 years are most likely to end up in hospital due to an accidental poisoning. Most of these poisonings (more than 4 out of 5) are caused by medicines.

It's very important to give your child the right dose of medicine.

  • Always read the packet carefully — the dose will depend on your child's age and weight.
  • Always use the measuring device provided in the package. If there isn't a device in the package, ask your pharmacist which device would be best.
  • Write it down — keeping a record can reduce the risk of double dosing.

What should I do if my child has come into contact with a poison?

My child has swallowed the poison

Call the Poisons Information Hotline on 13 11 26 as soon as you can. If possible, have the package, or a photo of the package, with you when making the call.

Do not try to make your child vomit.

My child has the poison on their skin

Remove any clothing that has poison on it. Take care to avoid touching the poison yourself. Run your child's skin under cool running water.

Call the Poisons Information Hotline on 13 11 26 as soon as you can. If possible, have the package, or a photo of the package, with you when making the call.

Resources and support

The NSW Poisons Information Centre has the latest poisons information. They offer telephone advice on 13 11 26 across Australia.

The Return Unwanted Medicines (RUM) Project is a free and easy way to get rid of your unwanted medicines. You can learn more about the RUM Project here.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2023

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Need more information?

Medicines and poisoning: keeping kids safe | Raising Children Network

Medicines are the most common cause of poisoning in young children. Safety starts with locking medicines in a child-resistant cupboard when not in use.

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Poisoning prevention for children | Raising Children Network

Prevent poisoning in children by storing medicines, chemicals and cleaners up high in a locked cupboard. Call the Poisons Information Centre on 131 126.

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Poisons | Emergency services and safety | Queensland Government

Even the mildest chemicals, medicines, animals and plants can be poisonous to your family but preventing poisoning at home can be simple.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Accidental poisoning -

Children's curiosity can lead to danger, such as unintentional poisoning.

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Household poisons: keeping children safe | Raising Children Network

Young children put everything in their mouths, including household poisons, chemicals and medicines. Keep all household poisons up high in locked cupboards.

Read more on website

E-liquids for use in e-cigarettes - Better Health Channel

E-liquid products may or may not contain nicotine or other harmful substances. E-liquid products are not always labelled accurately and there is no guarantee that a product does not contain nicotine.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Button batteries | Product Safety Australia

If swallowed, a button battery can become stuck in a child’s throat and result in catastrophic injuries and even death. Insertion of button batteries into body orifices such as ears and noses can also lead to significant injuries. Keep products with button batteries out of sight and out of reach of small children at all times.

Read more on Product Safety Australia website

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Babies are completely dependent on you for their safety. Here's what you can do to keep them safe.

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