Home » Accidental poisoning » Level 2 » Question 1

Products that resemble foods and appeal to children Potential risks of accidental ingestion

1. Past cases of accidental poisoning by cosmetics & liquid household products

    Children aged between 6 months and 6 years are involved in accidental poisonings more frequently than any other age group and the majority of incidents happen at home. Toddlers are particularly prone to swallowing cosmetics and household products because children of that age are curious, can move about and may mistake a brightly coloured product for a sweet or drink.

    The reported incidents usually involve liquid products in the case of children under 3 years of age, solid and liquid products for children between 3 and 12, and mostly solid products for older children.

    The product categories, which, apart from medicines, are involved most frequently in childhood poisoning accidents, are cosmetics, toiletries, pharmaceuticals and household cleaners. Products commonly ingested include toilet cleaners, dishwashing detergents, descalers, bleach, drain cleaners, pesticides, fuels, solvents, disinfectants, fabric conditioners, washing-up liquid, nail polish and polish remover, aftershave, perfume, soap, floor and furniture polish, paintbrush cleaners and thinners, and paraffin.

    Poison centres in various EU and non-EU countries register cases of accidental poisoning, including such caused by consumer products. However, most incidents are harmless and cause very mild or no symptoms so they often go unreported. Many children who drink household products are not brought to the doctor because they show no ill effects or they are believed to be inconsequential and even those who do consult a doctor often require no treatment. Doctors who have experience treating these cases rarely contact poison control centres because they don’t need any advice. As a result, it is difficult to estimate the actual number of accidental poisonings and there is even less information on the details of the products involved such as the packaging, the concentrations of ingredients, storage details or the cause of the poisoning.

    There are no statistics available to estimate the burden of injuries caused by poisonings. However, the death rate from these accidental poisonings is very low (less than 0.05% of reported cases) and for children it is probably even lower. Elderly people often show the same symptoms as children but they can fare worse if they have underlying medical problems.

    The main symptoms that occur have to do with the digestive system, such as vomiting and stomach pains, or with the nervous system, such as loss of consciousness or loss of coordination. There can also be some other symptoms such as rashes, shortness of breath, coughs, difficulty swallowing, as well as low blood pressure and irregular heartbeat. One serious risk is if the affected person breathes in vomit by accident. Vomit by itself is acidic and can damage the lungs, but if there are toxic chemicals in the vomit it can make the damage much worse, causing a condition known as chemical pneumonia.

    Very little is known specifically on the effect of accidental ingestion of household chemicals or cosmetics that resemble food or have child-appealing properties, but a similar pattern of symptoms is expected. More...

    FacebookTwitterEmailDownload (10 pages, 0.3 MB)
    Accidental poisoning foldout
    Themes covered
    Publications A-Z

    Get involved!

    This summary is free and ad-free, as is all of our content. You can help us remain free and independant as well as to develop new ways to communicate science by becoming a Patron!