What to do if a child swallows your medication

Treatment (summary taken directly from St. John Ambulance website)

 Your aims:

  • To maintain breathing and circulation.
  • To arrange removal to hospital.

If the casualty is conscious:

  • Help them into a comfortable position.
  • Ask them what they have taken.
  • Reassure them while you talk to them.
  • Dial 999 for an ambulance.
  • Monitor and record vital signs – level of response, pulse and breathing – until medical help arrives.
  • Look for evidence that might help to identify the drug, such as empty containers. Give these samples and containers to the paramedic or ambulance crew.

If the casualty becomes unconscious:

  • Open the airway and check breathing.
  • Be prepared to give chest compressions and rescue breaths if necessary.
  • Place them into the recovery position if the casualty is unconscious but breathing normally.
  • Dial 999 for an ambulance.

DO NOT induce vomiting.

My reason for writing this post:

I am generally neurotic about keeping medication and cleaning materials completely out of reach of my four-year old, but an incident yesterday not only made me think hard, but it called me to immediate action;

As it was a gorgeous day, I’d asked L’s father if he’d take him out as I couldn’t. He duly picked him up and they went off for a bike ride. I roamed the kitchen and ‘gathered’ what I’d need for the next few hours before settling myself down again on the sofa. This included my next pain-killer, due in half an hour, which I popped out of the film and placed by my glass on the table next to me. A little voice said ‘don’t do that’, but my rationale argued, it’s fine, L won’t be back until this evening, by which time the pill will be gone.

25 minutes later, the door-bell rang and they were back, hot, sweaty and wilting. “Change of plan” said Papa, we’re off to the open-air pool. I laughed and was directing him to the pool-bag, towel cupboard, arm-bands etc. when L interrupted me, waving the pill he had found and saying “What’s this Mummy, can I have it?”

Once they had gone again and I had stopped shaking, both in anger at myself and in relief that my negligence had, this time, not had tragic consequences, I went on to ask myself “Would I have known what to do if L had actually swallowed it?” I have attended numerous first aid courses in the past, but putting myself on the spot now, I had to admit, that, other than phoning 112, the German equivalent to 999, I was definitely not confident in the area of drug poisoning.

Googling revealed millions of hits and a monstrous amount of useless chatter. Not what you need in an emergency. After some targeted searching, I finally came across some clear, to-the-point advice from sites including St John Ambulance and the British Red Cross. I summarised the tips offered by the SJA site at the head of this post, but highly recommend a proactive visit to the rest of their site as there are some superb first aid tips on many other areas too, including unconscious and not breathing (for adults, children and infants), unconscious but breathing (for adults, children and infants), bleeding (including nose-bleeds),  foreign objects in the eye, severe allergic reactions and shock. The advice is bullet-pointed and often supported by a useful image.

The most important thing I took away from this incident, apart from “Never EVER leave ANY medication in reach of children, even if you think there is no immediate danger”, was the dangers of inducing a child to vomit. I think my initial reaction may well have been to make him drink salt-water to bring the pill back up before it had time to do any damage. It just goes to show how wrong our instincts can be. Thank you St John Ambulance for clarifying this for me and to all other organisations which provide clear, easy to understand first aid advice online to the general public.

Sites I have found so far which do just this are:

  • St John Ambulance
  • The British Red Cross
  • The BBC Health website may be out of date, but nevertheless contains a useful list of first aid misonceptions – things we often think we should do in an emergency, but which are, in fact, ineffective or even dangerous in certain circumstances.
  • The Health and Safety Executive has published an excellent online brochure with step-by-step advice in the event of a medical emergency in the workplace. The clear and very simple to read bullets are supported with excellent, self-explanatory photo images to illustrate each point.

I hope this is a reminder to anyone reading, as it was to me, of how imperative it is to have a basic knowledge of first aid. As parents, guardians and indeed members of our respective communities, how much better would it be if we were confident that we could in fact step up as first responders in the event of medical emergency! We do not have to be experts, but considering the majority of accidents happen in the home, of which approx. 500,000 registered annually in the UK are to children under 5 (stats taken from NHS Choices), it really could mean the difference between life and death.


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2 Responses to What to do if a child swallows your medication

  1. StormInAKCup says:

    You have just reminded me to book myself onto the infant first aid course. Thank you x

  2. Goodness how scary! You’re prompted me too, been years since I did the St Johns Ambulance course x

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