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The household hazards hiding in plain sight

They’re healthy under normal circumstances, but ordinary products like hand gel, toilet discs and vaporisers are proving dangerous for kids with curious tastebuds.

Queensland Health poison specialists say they are getting calls from worried parents whose children have consumed the contents of, or been exposed to, everyday household items.

“Most families are focused on ensuring their toddlers cannot get their hands on medications and chemicals, and rightly so,” Queensland Poisons Information Centre manager Carol Wylie said.

“However, many household products that may seem otherwise innocuous can also be harmful to the health of their children. They can’t be overlooked.

“We get at least one call a day from parents whose children have tried to consume gel discs in toilets. Many of these products contain cleaning agents that could make a child sick.

“We also regularly get calls about toddlers swallowing antiseptic hand gel, which are typically alcohol-based. Toddlers often pluck bottles of the gel out of handbags or off benches and they can become ill if they ingest the contents.

“Dishwashing and laundry detergents can also be a problem.”

Ms Wylie said the fluid used in steam vaporisers, which are used to ease nasal congestion, also posed hazards for youngsters.

“In cooler months, parents will set up vaporisers in their children’s rooms to help them breathe easier and sleep better,” Ms Wylie said.

“Care should be taken to ensure they cannot get to these devices – not only can they cause burns but the liquids or oils used can cause illness if consumed, especially gastric issues. We get regular calls about children swallowing vaporiser fluids, often directly from the unit.”

Ms Wylie said people with small children should carefully check their home to ensure potentially harmful products and substances were out-of-reach, locked away or, if they were no longer needed, properly disposed of. Places where children regularly visited, such as grandparents’ homes, should also be checked.

Symptoms associated with exposure to items such as hand gels, toilet discs and vaporiser liquids varied but the signs to heed include: stomach upsets and vomiting; coughing; listlessness; changes in breathing or heart rates; and rash or itchy eyes;.

“The most important thing is for parents to remain calm and seek advice by calling the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 if an exposure occurs or is suspected,” Ms Wylie said.

“You may be reassured the child is okay or advised to see medical assistance.”

The Poison Information Centre receives around 34,000 calls a year – an average of 95 a day – from people with concerns ranging from exposure to chemicals and consumption of medications to bee stings and animal bites. More than half of the patients are children.

For more information on poisons, call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 or visit

Last updated: 26 April 2019