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

2. What makes children and elderly people more likely to swallow such products?

  • 2.1 What makes children more likely to swallow such products?
  • 2.2 Why might some elderly people swallow such products?

2.1 What makes children more likely to swallow such products?

Young children are inquisitive, put things in their mouth and are not aware of consequences so they are the age group most likely to drink poisons by accident, particularly between 6 months and 6 years. Fatal poisonings are more common in children under the age of 1 but the peak time for non-fatal poisonings is between the ages of 1 and 4. The danger is particularly high for toddlers - at around the age of 2, when young children become more mobile and able to get hold of poisons. Often children take just one sip or a swallow and the typical amounts drank are between 4.5 ml and 9 ml.

Accidental poisonings may be more likely when the children are not supervised closely and the adults are distracted, for instance because they are preparing a meal or doing other chores. Children who are thirsty or hungry are more likely to drink from any open container within their reach, particularly if the smell is nice. There are still many cases which are related to storing corrosive solutions in unlabelled containers or even drinking bottles which other adults unknowingly give to their children.

Statistically, there is a higher risk of accidental injuries, including poisoning in families of low socioeconomic status. Many factors could be involved such as stress, education and income of the family and absence of parents. Poorer families tend to have more hazards in the home, but identifying potential dangers can be difficult for parents of all incomes and accidental poisonings also happen in wealthy households.

The way in which toxins are broken down, stored and excreted by the body is different for children than it is for adults which could make them more susceptible than adults.. This is especially true for very young children, but by the time they are 2, most of the biological factors that affect the way the body deals with poisons have matured.

The nervous, reproductive, endocrine and immune systems go through important developmental stages during childhood so exposure to poisons at this crucial time can have particularly lasting consequences. More...

2.2 Why might some elderly people swallow such products?

For the purpose of this opinion, the elderly are considered as persons aged 75 years and above, when many people show some physical and mental decline as a result of aging.

This natural deterioration often causes no problems unless the body is under stress because of an infection, illness or, as in this study, following accidental poisoning. In this case, elderly people are worse affected than younger people, recover more slowly and could suffer permanent damage. The outcome is even more serious if the elderly person also has some physical or mental disease, is under or malnourished or suffers deprivation.

Although accidental poisoning in the elderly is a significant problem, there is very little research on probable causes but several factors are likely to play a role. Many people over 75 have trouble smelling and seeing properly and cannot easily tell when a substance is toxic. Those who are disoriented because of illness or medication are more likely to confuse food and non-food items.

Older people are generally aware of hazards in the home and of safety information in products. However, a significant proportion find it difficult to handle products and packaging, or have memory difficulties so that they cannot follow long sets of instructions or warnings, particularly if these are written in small print that is hard to read.

Elderly people are particularly vulnerable because they are often left by themselves for extended periods and they are not under constant observation. If they have an accident, they may not call for help immediately or at all if they feel ashamed or not sure of what has happened. More...

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