Poisoning or accidental swallowing

Poisoning is the harmful effect that occurs when a toxic substance is swallowed, inhaled (breathed in), or comes into contact with the skin, eyes, or mucous membranes such as those of the mouth or nose.

Accidental swallowing of potentially toxic substances occurs most commonly in young children (toddlers), accounting for about 2 in every 100 emergency presentations to hospital.

Products commonly resulting in exposure or ingestion include medicines and household or garden products such as soaps, detergents, garden chemicals.

When should you worry?

If your child has any of the following:

  • Is unconscious
  • Is confused or agitated 
  • Has a fit or seizure
  • Is pale, mottled or blue
  • Choking or has breathing difficulties
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Eye pain or redness 

You need urgent help

Go to the nearest Hospital Emergency (A&E) Department or phone 999

Please ensure you have the substance with you

If your child has any of the following: 

  • Rash or skin irritation 
  • Vomiting
  • Mild abdominal pain
  • Headache

If the substance is: 

  • A medication
  • The bottle or packet suggests seeking medical help or has any warning symbols 
  • A potentially poisonous plant or fungi

You need to contact a doctor or nurse today

Please call your GP surgery or contact NHS 111 - Go to 111.nhs.uk or call 111.(111 online does not currently take questions about children aged under 5, so if your child is 4 or younger,  please call 111).

If symptoms persist for 4 hours or more and you have not been able to speak to either a member of staff from your GP practice or to NHS 111 staff, recheck that your child has not developed any red features.

Please ensure you have the substance with you

If none of the above features are present

Your child has no symptoms and has ingested a non-harmful substance.

Self care

Continue providing your child’s care at home. If they go on to develop any symptoms or if you are still concerned about your child, please call 111

What should you do?

Information to help the health professional - substance:

  1. What substance has your child swallowed or come in contact with?  
  2. When was the substance taken? How long ago?
  3. What was the type of exposure? Did they swallow, inhale, lick it etc?
  4. How much of the substance was taken?

Information to help the health professional – your child:

  1. Age and estimated weight of your child
  2. Any existing medical conditions
  3. Any medications or ongoing treatments
  4. Any allergies

What should you do after seeking advice or being discharged from hospital:

  1. Please monitor your child over the next 24-48 hours
  2. Let them eat or drink normally
  3. Please follow the steps above if any concerns about your child
  4. Please read the following ‘prevention is better than cure’ advice

Prevention is better than cure

The best way to prevent accidental swallowing or exposure is to limit access to these substances. Whilst children are curious and clever and seem to get hold of anything and everything, by following the advice below you will have done all you can to reduce this risk, just remember the ‘keep SAFE 6 rule’:

Safe Storage – high out of reach and out of sight, preferably in a locked cupboard. This includes all medications, vitamins and supplements, button batteries, infuser oils, vape liquids, perfumes, household chemicals and washing liquid or tabs. Ask visitors if they have medicine in their bag, coat or purse and keep their belongings in a safe location.

Safe Containers – keep medications locked away and ensure safety caps are on

Safe Labels – keep medicines and household chemicals in their original containers and do not decant them into other containers or mix chemicals together. There is usually advice in or on the original container about what to do if accidentally swallowed

Safe Use – use medications and products as directed, and never pretend they are sweets

Safe Disposal – pharmacy for medicines and other products as directed on packaging

Safe Home - install a carbon monoxide detector in your home, ensuring it’s working properly and replace the batteries when needed

A graphic to show the do's and don't of medicine safety with young children

Where should you seek help?

For wear and tear, minor trips and everything in between


You can treat your child's very minor illnesses and injuries at home.

Some illnesses can be treated in your own home with support and advice from the services listed when required, using the recommended medicines and getting plenty of rest.

Sound advice

Children can recover from illness quickly but also can become more poorly quickly; it is important to seek further advice if a child's condition gets worse.

For information on common childhood illnesses go to What is wrong with my child?

Pharmacists are experts in many aspects of healthcare and can offer advice on a wide range of long-term conditions and common illnesses such as coughs, colds and stomach upsets. You don’t need an appointment and many have private consultation areas, so they are a good first port of call. Your pharmacist will say if you need further medical attention.

Sound advice

  • Visit a pharmacy if your child is ill, but does not need to see a GP
  • Remember that if your child's condition gets worse, you should seek further medical advice immediately
  • Help your child to understand - watch this video with them about going to the pharmacy

For information on common childhood illnesses go to What is wrong with my child?

Health visitors are nurses or midwives who are passionate about promoting healthy lifestyles and preventing illness through the delivery of the Healthy Child Programme. They work with you through your pregnancy up until your child is ready to start school.

Health Visitors can also make referrals for you to other health professionals for example hearing or vision concerns or to the Community Paediatricians or to the child and adolescent mental health services.

Contact them by phoning your Health Visitor Team or local Children’s Centre.

Sound advice

Health visitors also provide advice, support and guidance in caring for your child, including:

  • Breastfeeding, weaning and healthy eating
  • Exercise, hygiene and safety
  • Your child’s growth and development
  • Emotional health and wellbeing, including postnatal depression
  • Safety in the home
  • Stopping smoking
  • Contraception and sexual health
  • Sleep and behaviour management (including temper tantrums!)
  • Toilet training
  • Minor illnesses

For more information watch the video: What does a health visitor do?

School nurses care for children and young people, aged 5-19, and their families, to ensure their health needs are supported within their school and community. They work closely with education staff and other agencies to support parents, carers and the children and young people, with physical and or emotional health needs.

Contacting the School Nurse

Primary and secondary schools have an allocated school nurse – telephone your child’s school to ask for the contact details of your named school nurse.

There is also a specialist nurse who works with families who choose to educate their children at home.

Sound Advice

Before your child starts school your health visitor will meet with the school nursing team to transfer their care to the school nursing service. The school nursing team consists of a school nursing lead, specialist public health practitioners and school health staff nurses.

They all have a role in preventing disease and promoting health and wellbeing, by:

  • encouraging healthier lifestyles
  • offering immunisations
  • giving information, advice and support to children, young people and their families
  • supporting children with complex health needs

Each member of the team has links with many other professionals who also work with children including community paediatricians, child and adolescent mental health teams, health visitors and speech and language therapists. The school health nursing service also forms part of the multi-agency services for children, young people and families where there are child protection or safeguarding issues.

GPs assess, treat and manage a whole range of health problems. They also provide health education, give vaccinations and carry out simple surgical procedures. Your GP will arrange a referral to a hospital specialist should you need it.

Sound advice

You have a choice of service:

  • Doctors or GPs can treat many illnesses that do not warrant a visit to A&E
  • Help your child to understand – watch this video with them about visiting the GP or going to a walk in centre

For information on common childhood illnesses go to What is wrong with my child?

If you’re not sure which NHS service you need, you can call 111 or use 111 online.

Please note that 111 online is for people aged 5 and over. Call 111 if you need help for a child under 5.

An adviser will ask you questions to assess your symptoms and then give you the advice you need, or direct you straightaway to the best service for you in your area.

Sound advice

Use NHS 111 if you are unsure what to do next, have any questions about a condition or treatment or require information about local health services

For information on common childhood illnesses go to What is wrong with my child?

A&E departments provide vital care for life-threatening emergencies, such as loss of consciousness, suspected heart attacks, breathing difficulties, or severe bleeding that cannot be stopped. If you’re not sure it’s an emergency, call 111 for advice.

Sound advice

  • Many visits to A&E and calls to 999 could be resolved by any other NHS services
  • If your child's condition is not critical, choose another service to get them the best possible treatment
  • Help your child to understand – watch this video with them about going to A&E or riding in an ambulance
Survey for parents and carers - what was the outcome of you looking at this page?