Poisoning Risks at Home

With Emma Walton, Pharmacist at TerryWhite Chemmart Samford and the Queensland Poison Information Centre

Unintentional poisonings can happen in a myriad of ways. A toddler eats some berries growing in the backyard. A nursing home resident is given the wrong medication. A cleaner splashes a bleach product into their eyes. A bush-walker is bitten by a snake.

Poisonings arise in many shapes and forms, and with over 33,000 calls to the Queensland Poisons Information Centre (QPIC) each year, these situations are more common than you may think. The QPIC forms a network with other poison information centres based in WA, NSW and VIC where phone advice on poisonings and exposures is given via a national number on 13 11 26

This is the number is found on product labels in the event of an exposure or overdose; ringing this number is a service available to the general public for queries or first aid advice, but is also a service used by GP’s, hospital doctors, nurses, allied health staff, veterinary personnel, educational workers and carers.

So, what is a poison?

There are many ways in which poisonings occur, therefore there are many different agents that are potential poisons! Some examples of include the following…

  • Prescription medicines
  • Medicines available over the counter
  • Vitamins and herbal products
  • Household & industrial cleaning products
  • Insect repellents and household insect sprays
  • Perfumes, colognes & room deodorisers
  • Hand sanitiser, antiseptics
  • Essential oils and vaporiser fluids
  • Tobacco, cigarettes and cigarette butts, vaping solutions, nicotine products
  • Batteries, in particular button batteries
  • Pesticides, insecticides, weed killers (herbicides)
  • Insect sprays and baits
  • Chemicals, manufacturing/building materials
  • Petrol, kerosene, mineral turpentine
  • Bites or stings by spiders, insects, snakes, jellyfish, ticks, or exposures to cane toads
  • Indoor and outdoor plants, mushrooms

Tips to Prevent Poisonings around the Home

Follow directions and safety precautions on products

It might sound very simple, but if the product directs you to use personal protection (mask, gloves, safety glasses) while using it, this is generally because it has the potential to cause irritation or nasty injuries when exposed to skin, eyes or inhaled. Where you can, use these products in a well-ventilated area to avoid accidental inhalation exposures.

Store cleaning products and medicines out of reach of children

Storing potential poisons in high or locked cupboards greatly reduces the risk of curious little ones getting into things they shouldn’t. While child-resistant lids and containers are not 100% childproof it certainly makes products harder to access and takes longer, allowing parents to pick up on a ‘suspicious silence’.

Be aware that ‘natural’ or ‘environmentally friendly’ products aren’t necessarily safer when accessed, and while medications left on benches or bedside tables are a good visual reminder to take them, they can be easily accessed by children.

Check the battery compartments on toys & electronic devices such as remote controls to ensure that batteries are secure and can’t be easily accessed, especially in households with toddlers or where toddlers may visit. Store spare batteries in a secure location.

Be aware of taking your medicines in front of toddlers and young children

Toddlers tend to mimic parents and grandparents with their behaviour. While not a poisoning, I still have a scar under my chin from when I was toddler and tried to copy my Dad after watching him shave. Mimicking behaviour is how we learn but can cause mishaps. If we take our medication in front of a toddler, then leave the packet on a bench or bedside table they may try to repeat the behaviour.

Return unused & expired medications to the Pharmacy

Clear out your medicine cupboard regularly! If you have medication you are no longer taking stored with current medications this can lead to medication errors. Don’t store poisons like eucalyptus oil or vaporiser fluids next to medications taken orally, like cough mixtures; a short lapse in concentration, poor eye sight or a sleepless night awake with a sick child may be all it takes to cause as error.

Webster packs & sachet rolls

Medication packing is not only fantastic for convenience and simplifying medication management, but it is a great help in minimising medication errors. It can also help with the common ‘double dose’ error because you can clearly see that your medication is missing from the dosage time and already taken. Medication packing is also very helpful for family members and carers as they can clearly see whether a dose has been taken. Medication packing is a service we offer at TerryWhite Chemmart Samford.

Routine is what we’re used to 

Many poisonings occur when daily routine is disrupted, or we are distracted; moving house and unpacking cupboards, staying at a holiday house where the contents of cupboards are unknown, having visitors stay who bring medications with them. Often poisonings can happen when we are focused on looking after someone. For example, a mum is busy giving Panadol® to her youngest child with an ear infection whilst her older child finds the Panadol® bottle left out.

Accidents can easily happen when a poison is not in its usual location; leaving a product out, storing it in a place where it is not usually stored or decanting it into a different container. Never store a poison in a food or drink container as it can easily be mistaken. Simply leaving medications out on a bench or bedside table to take later is a common reason for another family member taking medication by mistake, as many medications look very similar.

The great outdoors

In Australia we are blessed with many dangerous creatures, some of which can be poisonous; snakes, spiders, marine creatures, ticks, cane toads and the list goes on.

When bushwalking, trail running, mountain biking or creek swimming always take a mobile phone (or EPIRB) with you. If you are bitten by any snake ring 000 immediately; stay as still as possible and if possible, apply a pressure immobilisation bandage. Do not try to kill or catch the snake for identification; snakes are often mis-identified, and hospital management does not require identification of snake in order to treat a patient. Attempting to catch or kill a snake involves greater risk of multiple bites or multiple people being bitten.

It is good to be aware of the plants growing in your gardens and backyard; some plants can be very poisonous if ingested or can have irritant or corrosive sap. Even common indoor plants can pose a risk to pets and children. For more information on common poisonous plants you can access the Queensland Poisons Information website:


Emma is available at TerryWhite Chemmart Samford on Wednesdays and Thursdays if you have any questions or if you would like to have a medication review.

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