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Babysitting: Dealing With a Poisoning

Most kids who get poisoned ate or drank household cleaning products or medicines, often in their own home. So it's good for babysitters to know how poisonings happen and what to do.

In many cases, a poison emergency can be handled by following advice from the Poison Control Center (the toll-free hotline number is 1-800-222-1222).

Possible signs that a child drank or ate something poisonous:

  • drowsiness
  • sudden change in behavior
  • unusual smell
  • visible evidence of medicine or cleaning products on the child's lips or clothes, or on the floor
  • excessive drooling
  • vomiting

If you think a child has taken a medication or a poison, call the Poison Control Center. In the United States, the toll-free number is 1-800-222-1222.

Before calling the hotline, get the bottle or box of whatever the child has swallowed. If you do not have the container, tell the hotline or emergency medical personnel — as best you can — what the child has swallowed. Don't try to get the child to throw up — it can make things worse.

The Poison Control Center will ask about the type of poison or medication you suspect the child took, an estimate of how much, and a few details about how the child is doing. The poison control expert will then let you know if you should call 911 or go to the emergency room, if you should go to the doctor's office, or if you can watch the child at home.

After you call the Poison Control Center, contact the parents to let them know what's going on. If the child needs to go to the emergency room, take whatever the child swallowed along with you.

If the child becomes unconscious or it's hard to keep the child awake, call 911 right away and then contact the parents.

Here are some ways you can help prevent poisonings:

  • When you arrive at your babysitting job, look around to make sure no dangerous substances have been accidentally left within reach of the kids. In addition to medications or household cleaning products, look for things like alcohol, batteries, or insect sprays.
  • If cabinets that contain poisoning hazards aren't locked and are easy for young kids to reach, ask parents to install cabinet locks.
  • Always supervise children while you're caring for them.
  • If you carry any medicine, keep it out of the kids' reach.
  • If you give a child medicine, be sure you close the cap securely afterward so kids can't open it.

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: May 2013