Poisons Information Centre at The Children's Hospital at Westmead

Contact details: 

Phone: 13 11 26

Fax:  (02) 9845 3597

Mailing address:
NSW Poisons Information Centre
The Children's Hospital at Westmead
Locked Bag 4001
Westmead, NSW 2145

The NSW Poisons Information Centre provides:

  • Latest poisons information to members of the public
  • Toxicology advice to health professionals on the management of poisoned patients
  • 24/7 call centre service to NSW and after hours call centre for whole of Australia
  • Liaison with poison centres from around Australia and the world in maintaining education, training and toxicovigilance

POISONS INFORMATION HOTLINE - 13 11 26

Poisoning

What is a poison?

Chemicals, medicines, animals and plants can be dangerous to people, even in small quanitities, or can become poisonous if you are exposed to enough of them.

Common poisons that can be dangerous include:

Medicines

  • Prescription medicines
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines
  • Herbal and homoeopathic products

Recreational substances and substances of abuse

  • Pharmaceuticals or illicitly produced for the purposes of intoxication.
  • Alcohol
  • Sedatives and sleeping pills
  • Opioids and narcotics
  • Stimulants: caffeine, guarana
  • Amphetamines (including 'ecstasy', 'ice' and 'speed')

Poisons at home

  • Cleaning products, such as bleaches, detergents
  • Pesticides and herbicides, such as insect sprays, baits, repellents, rat and mouse baits and pellets
  • Health and beauty products such as nail polish and remover, hair dyes, mouthwash, toothpaste, deodorant, perfume and aftershave
  • Fertilisers, pool chemicals, building products, paints and paint thinners, petrol, antifreeze and degreasers

Poisons at the workplace

  • Solvents, pesticides, paints, glues, acids, petroleum products

Animals

  • snakes
  • spiders
  • insects
  • cane toads
  • marine animals: stinging fish, blue-bottles, jellyfish, blue-ringed octopus, cone shells

Plants

  • Trees
  • Flowers
  • Seeds and berries
  • Mushrooms and fungi
  • Sap of some plants

Poisoning prevention

In New South Wales, every year, thousands of children and adults need medical care for poisoning from products commonly found in and around the home. Commonly, accidental poisonings occur in children younger than five, with children aged one to three at greatest risk.

Why are children more likely to be poisoned?

Young children are exploring their world and will put anything in their mouths. They also like to imitate what others do, including taking medications.

What can be poisonous to your child?

Medicines, cleaning, laundry, gardening and car products, insecticides, perfumes, paint, plants, insects and many others.

How can you prevent a poisoning?

  • Store medicines and chemicals out of sight and reach of children, at least 1.5 metres off the ground and in a locked child resistant container.
  • Use medicines and chemicals safely. Follow given instructions and return them to safe storage immediately after use.
  • Buy products in child resistant containers and use child resistant locks on cupboards or cabinets that store poisons. You can buy these at many hardware stores.
  • Ensure all products are stored in original containers and are clearly labelled.
  • Regularly dispose of unwanted and out of date medicines by taking them to your nearest pharmacy for safe disposal.
  • Don't call medicines 'lollies'
  • Check that the plants in your garden are not poisonous - refer to Poisonous plants fact sheet

How do adults get poisoned?

Adults may be exposed to poisons in several different ways:

  • Accidental poisoning may occur in the home or workplace
  • Recreational poisoning from the intake of alcohol and/or various illicit drugs or chemicals
  • Deliberate self-poisoning - any person attempting deliberate self-harm should ALWAYS be referred to hospital for assessment and counselling
  • Occupational/industrial poisoning related to exposure to chemicals, gases or other substances in the workplace

First aid

If it is an emergency, call 000 for an ambulance. Ring the Poisons Information Centre (13 11 26) for information on first aid. Poisoning advice is available on 13 11 26 anywhere in Australia 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

If you, or someone in your care, may have been poisoned, do not wait for symptoms to occur. Call for advice or go to your nearest hospital Emergency Department. The following advice depends on the form of poisoning:

If the poison is SWALLOWED

  • Give the person who has swallowed the poison a sip of water
  • If safe to do so, take the poison container to the telephone or if the poison container is contaminated, note down the product name and any ingredients listed
  • Call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26
  • Do NOT try to make them vomit
  • Do NOT use Ipecac Syrup

If the poison is INHALED

  • Immediately get the person to fresh air, without placing yourself at risk
  • Avoid breathing fumes
  • If it is safe to do so, open doors and windows wide
  • If the victim isn't breathing, start 'mouth-to-mouth' resuscitation and call an ambulance on 000
  • If safe to do so, take the poison container to the telephone or if the poison container is contaminated, note down the product name and any ingredients listed
  • Call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26

If the poison enters the EYE

  • Flood the eye with cold water from a running tap or a cup/jug
  • Continue to flush for 15 minutes, holding the eyelids open
  • If safe to do so, take the poison container to the telephone. Alternatively, if the poison container is contaminated, note down the product name and any ingredients listed
  • Call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26

If the poison contacts the SKIN

  • Remove contaminated clothing, taking care to avoid contact with the poison
  • Flood skin with running cold water
  • Wash gently with soap and water and rinse well
  • If safe to do so, take the poison container to the telephone or if the poison container is contaminated, note down the product name and any ingredients listed
  • Call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26

Bites and stings

Snakes

Australian elapid snakes are amongst the most venomous in the world. Snake bites in Australia from land or sea snakes can be potentially fatal and you should seek immediate medical assistance for all snake bites. While not all snakes are venomous, it is difficult to reliably identify a snake; hence all snake bites should be treated as being potentially dangerous.

If a snake bite occurs, call 000 for an ambulance, apply a pressure-immobilisation bandage, and have the patient taken immediately to the nearest hospital. If the person collapses or stops breathing, commence CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).

If you are bitten by a snake keep in mind the following DOs & DON'Ts:

DO:

  • Remove them from further danger
  • Keep them still
  • Apply a pressure-immobilisation bandage

DON'T:

  • Panic or run
  • Attempt to catch the snake
  • Apply a tight tourniquet
  • Wash, suck or cut the bite site

Spiders

There are many different types of spiders in Australia that can bite people, and these bites can cause a reaction at the bite site. In Australia the only spiders to cause harm to humans are the Red Back Spider and the Funnel Web Spider.

Red Back spider

The red back spider is found throughout Australia. The female red back spider has a red/ orange stripe on its back while the male is very small, usually with no stripe and is harmless. A red back spider bite may result in pain, redness and sweating at the bite site.

First Aid:

  • Wash the area and keep it clean
  • Seek advice from the Poisons Information Centre or your local doctor
  • If severe pain occurs, take the patient needs to the nearest hospital
  • It is usually not necessary to call an ambulance

Funnel Web spider

This spider is large and black. A bite from this spider can be very dangerous. A bite will usually cause severe pain, sweating, nausea and vomiting, difficulty in breathing, muscle twitching and confusion.

First Aid:

  • Remove the patient from danger
  • Keep the patient still
  • Apply a pressure immobilisation bandage around the bite and then bandage the entire limb
  • Use a splint to keep the whole limb still (that is, immobilise the affected limb)
  • Call an ambulance (000) to take the person to the nearest hospital
  • Please note that white-tail spiders are not venomous and do not cause skin ulcers (necrotic arachnidism, ref.: Isbister & Gray, Medical Journal of Australia, 2003)

Pressure-immobilisation bandage

Pressure-immobilisation is recommended for:

  • all Australian snakes, including sea snakes
  • funnel web spiders
  • bee, wasp and ant stings in allergic individuals
  • blue-ringed octopus
  • cone shell stings

Do NOT use pressure-immobilisation first aid for:

  • spider bites other than a funnel web spider (such as red-back spiders)
  • jelly fish stings
  • stonefish and other fish stings
  • bee, wasp and ant stings in non-allergic individuals
  • bites by scorpions, centipedes, beetles

How to apply a pressure-immobilisation bandage

1. Call 000

2. Keep the person who has been bitten as still as possible. If possible, lie the patient down to prevent walking or moving around.

3. Apply a firm bandage over the bitten area (preferably use a crepe bandage if available)

4. Then bandage the entire limb (arm to the shoulder or leg to the hip) - the bandage should be as tight as you would apply for a sprained ankle.

5. Apply a rigid splint to the limb (piece of wood, branch, or rolled up paper)

6. Remembering to keep still await the arrival of the ambulance for transport to the emergency department of the nearest hospital.

(Images courtesy of Australian Venom Research Unit, Melbourne)

Marine animals

Blue bottles

Stings from Physalia species leave a painful whip-like wavy line on the skin from the tentacle. Basic treatment:

  • Clear away the tentacles
  • Immerse in hot water for 20 minutes for pain relief or have a hot water shower (be mindful to supervise children with hot water)
  • Seek medical advice if pain continues

Tropical jellyfish

Australian jellyfish are extremely dangerous and can cause death. If someone is stung by a jellyfish:

  • Remove the person from water
  • Pour vinegar over the affected areas of skin
  • Carefully remove any tentacles
  • Do NOT apply a pressure immobilisation bandage
  • Call 000 if box jellyfish sting, or if pain persists, to transport the patient to medical care
  • If the person is unconscious or stops breathing, commence CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation)

Blue-ringed octopus

The blue-ringed octopus bite is very poisonous. A bite can cause paralysis, and the person may stop breathing. Basic treatment:

  • Apply a pressure immobilisation bandage to the entire affected limb
  • Call 000 to take the patient to the nearest hospital
  • If the person collapses or stops breathing, commence CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation)

Sea snakes

Sea snakes are venomous and highly dangerous. See snake bite.

Click here for the Bites & Stings factsheet.

Plants and mushrooms

There are many plants and fungi that can be dangerous or even fatal if ingested. Children in particular are at risk of harmful effects from garden plants as they crawl and taste various flora. It is important to teach children not to ingest strange flowers, leaves and other parts straight from a plant or bush.

Common symptoms of poisoning from plants include:

  • vomiting
  • stomach cramps
  • burning to the lips, mouth or throat
  • itching, rash or allergic symptoms
  • More severe effects can include irregular heart beat and convulsions (fitting)

Poisonous plants can be difficult to recognise. Plants to be concerned about include:

  • Oleander
  • Foxgloves
  • Amanita mushrooms (fly agaric)
  • Angel's trumpet (Jimsonweed)
  • Dumb cane (Dieffenbachia)
  • Asthma/stickweed
  • Rhus

FIRST AID for poisoning from plants is as for any other ingestion or contact.

Click here for the Poisonous plants fact sheet.

Fact sheets

Bites & Stings
Poisonous Plants
Kids & Poisons
Mushrooms (ACT Health)
Poison Safety Checklist

Links

Kids Health at The Children's Hospital at Westmead

Bites and stings

Chemical and food safety

Child safety, injury prevention

Drug and alcohol Information

First aid courses

Help lines

Occupational Health and Safety

Plants

Pregnancy and breastfeeding