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You're babysitting a 4-year-old when you discover he's swallowed more than half a bottle of his parents' pills. What should you do?

First, remain calm. Most cases of child poisoning are mild and manageable if the right steps are taken. However, some substances are more toxic to children and may be lethal to a child even in very small doses, including:


  • alcohols (e.g., alcoholic beverages such as vodka; antifreeze, windshield wiper fluid)
  • cleaning agents
  • industrial chemicals
  • nail products
  • paint thinners
  • pesticides (e.g., lindane)


  • antidepressants
  • diabetes medications
  • heart medications
  • illegal drugs
  • iron pills
  • opioid medications (e.g., oxycodone, methadone)
  • salicylates (e.g., ASA, mesalamine)
  • seizure medications

Note that this is not an exhaustive list. Any medication or chemical ingested by a child can have the potential to cause serious harm. These substances should be kept out of sight and out of reach from children. In the case of a poisoning, do not attempt to induce vomiting unless advised otherwise.

If the child is unconscious, has stopped breathing, or has no pulse, call 9-1-1 and start CPR if you are trained to do so, if needed. For more information, see "CPR." CPR techniques are similar for adults and children over 1 year of age, except that children may need smaller rescue breaths. Give breaths that are just large enough to make the chest rise.

You should also call 9-1-1 if the child is:

  • having trouble breathing
  • having seizures (convulsions)
  • having trouble swallowing

Otherwise, call your local poison information centre. These professionals will give you instructions on what to do next. Be prepared to provide:

  • the child's age and approximate weight
  • a description of what the child swallowed (for example, what's on the label of the pill bottle or what the pills look like)
  • how the child is feeling and whether you've noticed any physical changes

Follow these steps to prevent child poisonings:

  • Don't count on child-resistant containers to keep children safe. They are designed to make containers harder, but not impossible, for a child to open. Children are often able to open them.
  • Never put household cleaners or other poisonous substances in cups, glasses, drinking bottles, or anything else that a child may pick up and drink. Keep them in their original containers.
  • Store all household cleaners and medications in a locked cabinet. Don't rely on keeping them on a high shelf "out of reach." Many children are able to climb up to reach even the highest shelves.
  • Children learn by watching adults. Don't take medication in front of children or call it "candy."

*Please note that this health feature is intended to provide a general overview of first aid for poisoning. It is not intended as a substitute for proper training through a certified first aid course. If you are interested in providing first aid, please contact your local St. John Ambulance, Life Saving Society, or Red Cross to enroll in a first aid course.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2024. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source:

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