‘I caught my 18-month-old with a bottle of limescale remover in her mouth’

Accidental poisoning is most likely to happen to children aged between one and four years old

Sitting on the bathroom floor rocking through a panic attack while reading the back of a limescale remover bottle was not my idea of a pleasant afternoon.

But, lo and behold, I caught my 18-month-old with the bottle in her month and the terrifying potential to ingest the toxic liquid. I had no idea how much she drank, if any, but erring on the side of caution, a visit to A&E was on the cards. Thankfully, poisoning was ruled out in my daughter’s case and I consider us lucky with a huge lesson learned.

In hindsight, I realised a panicked rush to Temple Street, with invasive testing and X-rays as a precaution, could have been prevented if I had followed the guidelines from the National Poisons Centre.

According to the NPIC, accidental poisoning is most likely to happen to children aged between one and four years old. Most of these incidents take place in the child’s home or that of a grandparent or childminder. Children are most likely to encounter poisons during the afternoon, at the weekend and during school holidays. A poison is any substance that can cause harm if it is swallowed, inhaled, injected or absorbed through the skin or eye; medicines, household products, chemicals, and even animals.


In what is an all too familiar occurrence, mum of two, Karen Power, remembers the anguish, fear and guilt when her son Thomas, drank Dettol.

“It was all a perfect storm unfortunately,” says Karen, remembering the Monday which ended up being a very different day than she envisaged.

“I happened to be off work but ended up spending the day in hospital with our son, Thomas, 18 months old, after he suffered a case of accidental poisoning.”

We can all say, it’ll never happen to us, or I wouldn’t leave anything dangerous out for my kids to get their hands on. But the reality is that poisoning in children is often due to an oversight, an accident, and while we do our best to protect our children, accidents do happen. There is no judgement due to any parent who has found themselves in this situation. Our own parental guilt is enough.

Karen shared their story of accidental poisoning on the podcast she produces with her husband, Derek. After the Parenting Pobal episode discussing the issue, they received messages of support, understanding and thanks for openly addressing what parents can do to prevent poisoning and what to do in the case of accidental poisoning.

“One in four cases of under-fives presenting to A&E are a result of accidental poisoning,” says Karen, “which goes to show how quickly it can happen. There are so many things in our homes which could present a hazard. I am always so cautious and have everything out of reach of little hands so I can’t believe I took my eye off the ball for a split second in this instance.”

Safety cap

But as Karen and I know, it only takes that second. After Thomas had eaten his breakfast, he had vomited, making Karen wonder if he had picked up a bug. After cleaning the kitchen and the vomit, she decided to disinfect the floor in case there was a bug going around the house.

“I filled the mop bucket with Dettol and set the bottle on the bench in from the edge with the lid resting on top,” she says. “I hadn’t realised but Thomas had obviously taken a growth spurt because the week before he couldn’t reach the bench. He had come over to the kitchen and taken the bottle from the counter. I hadn’t screwed the top on until the safety cap clicked so he was able to take it off and drank the liquid. It happened in a split second when I had my back turned. He was only a few feet from me.”

Naturally Karen panicked but her maternal instinct kicked in. After taking the bottle from him, she checked the inside of his mouth and cleaned around his face and chest to get it off his skin. She then rang the NPIC. Unlike a lot of us, Karen was aware of the NPIC Helpline after hearing about it from an online parents’ group. Thankfully, she had kept the number to hand; the number we never want to have to ring.

“The woman on the line was fantastic,” she says. “She was able to tell me that for his age and weight about 5ml of undiluted Dettol could be harmful. If you think about it, 5ml is the size of the syringe you use to give Calpol, so really very little. She also said that because Thomas had vomited before ingesting the Dettol she couldn’t be sure if he presented symptoms that they were a result of the accidental poisoning or just a bug as they can be very similar - vomiting, lethargy, painful stomach etc. She advised that we get him to hospital as soon as possible.

“In hospital he had been sick which likely got a fair bit out of his system. He had repeated blood tests to make sure he was in the clear. He bounced back very quickly and save for a few minor chemical burns around his mouth, by the next day you wouldn’t have even known.

“I think parents and carers should familiarise themselves with the NPIC and the advice they have in terms of what to do if you or someone you know is accidentally poisoned. The doctors in A&E said the best thing we did was to ring them. They are science graduates with a post-graduate qualification in Medical Toxicology, so they are the experts in this area.

“They can immediately advise if you need to seek urgent medical attention. We are so lucky. It could have been much worse. Thankfully, Thomas is back to being a divil. He has my heart broke, if there is something he shouldn’t be at, you can bet that is what he will be trying to do.”

If you think your child has been poisoned, stay calm but act quickly, is the advice from the NPIC.

“ Take the poison away from your child. Never make your child vomit. If the poison was eaten, make the child spit it out, run your fingers around their mouth and flick out any remaining pieces.

“ If a chemical has splashed into the eyes, wash the eyes with tap water for 15 minutes. Wash any skin that was in contact with the poison with soap and water.

“ Call the National Poisons Helpline on (01) 809 2166. Your call will be answered by a Specialist in Poisons Information Centre. You will be advised if medical attention is needed.”