Of course, there are things that every parent can do to avoid this kind of crisis from happening, but sometimes, a kid only needs a few unsupervised seconds to do something.
Paracetamol, also called Tylenol and acetaminophen (generically), is generally an extremely safe and effective fever reducer and pain killer. Where we live, it is available in a pinky, sweet syrup for little children. Like most other parents, we always have liquid paracetamol in the house in case one of the kids gets a fever.
It needs to be refrigerated, so we keep it on the very top shelf of our fridge.
My five-year old daughter had a tummy ache yesterday, and developed a small fever at some point. It was just a general sick day. So, she was given paracetamol. A few hours later, her little brother also decided he was feeling a bit under the weather. He took a chair from the living room, said he was going to pour himself some water, and I thought nothing of it. Then, I noticed that he had instead opened the fridge door, climbed on that chair, and opened the bottle of paracetamol. He had helped himself to quite a large quantity of the drug. It all ended well, and I'll tell you more about that later, but first here's what you should do if something similar happens to your child:
- If you catch your child in the act, and are sure that no time has passed since taking the drug, make him vomit immediately. Paracetamol absorption takes place mostly in the small intestine, so if you make sure it doesn't get to this stage, you reduce the risk of complications somewhat.
- Give your child activated carbon to drink. Like paracetamol itself, activated carbon is a wonderful thing to always have in the house. Toxins attach themselves to the charcoal, reducing the possibility that they will be absorbed by the body.
- Go to the ER yourself, or call the emergency services. Because of the absorption process, it is important to get the stomach cleaned within two hours of the child taking paracetamol. Take the bottle with you. Over there, they wash the stomach contents and may insert more activated carbon into the stomach. Go to the ER, even if your child is not displaying symptoms. The symptoms of paracetamol poisoning include vomiting and dizziness, but they don't show up for up to 24 hours at which point the situation is already much more dangerous, because the liver is at risk. Take this seriously, because paracetamol poisoning can be lethal.
- Acetylcysteine is an antidote to paracetamol toxicity that is available over the counter. While parents of small kids who took am overdose of paracetamol ideally should not self-medicate, it's good to know the name of the stuff that can help you. Talk to your pharmacist about the dosage needed, explaining what happened.
Paracetamol toxicity can cause permanent liver damage and even death. As we learned yesterday, horrible things can happen very, very quickly. My son is fine after a visit to the hospital, but I will no longer be keeping paracetamol in the house. We self-treated with the help of Google and our neighborhood pharmacy, which is only one door down from us, before heading to the hospital. Getting there takes a while, and vomiting most of the paracetamol out as soon as possible helps reduce risks of later, nasty complications. Also see, hidden dangers: how to baby-proof your home.