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What to do when a child drinks poisonous substances

•Palm oil, vomiting not solution —Experts

Medical experts sometimes confront disturbing situations where little children ignorantly drink kerosene or other poisonous liquids in place of water. AKINWALE ABOLUWADE reports a recent experience and asks the doctor about the best antidote when such eventuality arises


For some moments, Maltida’s mother was speechless. She watched her three-year-old baby as she cried inconsolably in a critical state. Worried and uncertain of the possible outcome, she wept profusely as she clutched to her embattled daughter. “Oh, you have put me into trouble; this girl has killed me,” she trembled and yelled intermittently as she appealed to her neighbours for help.

Maltida, a Nursery 1 pupil, had just ignorantly taken a few gulps of kerosene kept in a bottle in front of the house. Within minutes, she became nervous and began to cough repeatedly. Few minutes after, she had grown pale and feeble. Her voice faded as she called “mummy, mummy” continuously.

According to her mother, the disturbing incident happened around 8:30 am on Thursday, April 25 while she (the woman) was cleaning the house. The little girl was playing outside the house close to where her mother was sweeping. Maltida’s mother said: “I don’t use stove for cooking, so I don’t use kerosene in the kitchen. I use gas for cooking but I use kerosene occasionally to burn refuse after sweeping the compound. Unknown to me, my daughter took the kerosene bottle, opened and drank it. I was busy sweeping and was preparing to burn the refuse in front of the house. I did not pay her attention at some point because I was distracted; I assumed that she was playing and doing fine.

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“She didn’t ask me for water. She must have felt that water was in the bottle that I placed at the veranda, so she drank it. The kerosene was inside a Limca bottle. I was shocked when I realised that she had drunk some of the content in the bottle. She started coughing and vomiting. At first, I didn’t know what to do to save her life so I cried out for help and picked her up. I gave her some milk before carrying her to the hospital because I thought it could help. Apart from milk, I did not give her any other thing. After that, we rushed her to the hospital.”

Maltida’s parents explained that they initially took the girl to Jaja Clinic, University of Ibadan in Ibadan for treatment. She was initially attended to but was, soon after, referred to the University College Hospital (UCH). Saturday Tribune learnt that the hapless little girl was brought into the hospital in critical state. The nurse on duty explained that she was already weak and her breathing was fast and short when brought in.

Series of medical tests were carried out on her, including X-ray, to ascertain the impact of the kerosene that she ingested and to know whether the content spilled into her lungs or not. “In this kind of situation, we fear that the kerosene might spill into the lungs and that is where the problem lies,” the nurse who spoke on the condition of anonymity explained.

She slept for some time after being given first aid treatment. The nurse said before sleeping, the girl indicated that she wanted to ease herself but, in the end, failed to do so. The medical team put her under close watch pending when results of the tests carried out on her would be confirmed. When examined closely, one of them stated that “If she can’t ease herself, we would know the next step to take.

The senior nursing sister who was on duty said: “We are taking necessary steps regarding her case; we shall monitor to know if she will eventually pass urine with ease or not. But now, her breathing has improved than when she was earlier brought in. Of course, we set oxygen for her. We thank God that her mother did not force her hand into her throat otherwise there would be apprehension that the poisonous liquid might possibly spill into her lungs. We are waiting for the result of the X-ray; we hope that the kerosene does not go into the lungs. We shall be on the lookout for her urinary output because this is important.”

Asked how often incidents of kerosene poisoning are referred to UCH, Dr Oluwatosin Abioye, a senior Registrar at the Otunba Tunwase Emergency Ward of the hospital, said: “We usually have between four and five cases per month. She expressed worries about the situation whereby people attempt to use palm oil as antidote for kerosene poisoning.

She said: “It is disturbing that many people use palm oil in trying to suppress the effect of kerosene poisoning; many people give palm oil for all cases of poisoning; they believe that it is ‘ero’ or an antidote. This is incorrect. Palm oil irritates the stomach and causes vomiting which may be aspirated into the lungs. This is very bad and dangerous as it causes more harm than good. Organs that could be damaged by poisoning are liver, kidneys, gut, heart; in short all body organs. Kerosene may damage no organ particularly; it will be excreted with feaces but if absorbed into the blood, it can cause neurological manifestations like drowsiness, headache, nausea, vomiting or even death.

“When only small quantity is ingested, there may be no symptom. But, the best thing to do when someone mistakenly ingests kerosene or any poison is to come straight to the hospital. At the hospital, some tests would be conducted and the patient would be put under observation”.

A medical institution in New York called Mount Sinai said when one mistakenly ingests kerosene, the faster a person gets medical help the better the chance for recovery, adding: “Swallowing kerosene may cause damage to the linings of the mouth, throat, esophagus (food pipe), stomach, and intestines. If kerosene gets into the lungs (aspiration), serious or permanent lung damage can occur.

Symptoms of kerosene poisoning include difficulty in breathing; throat swelling; pain in the eyes or loss of vision, ears, nose and throat, abdominal pain, bloody stools, burns of the food pipe (esophagus); vomiting, low blood pressure, convulsions, weakness and drowsiness.

Mount Sinai said: “If the person breathed in the poison, immediately move them to fresh air,” adding that it is important to confirm the amount of kerosene swallowed as well as the time it was swallowed.

In case of inhalation of lower concentrations of poisonous substances, New York State Department of Health, said one may experience coughing and nose and throat irritation while exposure to high concentrations of ammonia in air may cause immediate burning of the eyes, nose, throat and respiratory tract and can result in blindness, lung damage or death.

Meanwhile, Dr Abioye has stressed the need to sensitise the public on the hazards of giving palm oil to those who ingested kerosene and other poisonous substances saying palm oil is not an antidote for quelling the poisonous effects of kerosene. She stressed that unless the impression is corrected, people’s lives would continue to be endangered as a result of the erroneous age-long credence.


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