Intoxications pédiatriques
Daily life
2 min

What are the most common causes of serious cases of accidental poisoning in children?

Produits de nettoyage, médicaments, appareils de chauffage, piles-boutons font partie de notre quotidien mais peuvent être sources d’accidents pour nos enfants. Les intoxications dont ils sont victimes sont fréquentes et parfois graves, surtout pour les plus jeunes. C’est ce que mentionne le bilan de l’Anses qui a analysé, en collaboration avec Santé publique France, différentes données issues des Centres antipoison (CAP), des passages aux urgences, des hospitalisations et des décès de 2014 à 2020. Ces accidents étant évitables, il est indispensable de sensibiliser l’entourage des enfants à ces risques et aux bonnes pratiques pour les prévenir.

Poisoning mainly occurs in the first few years of life, when children are starting to stand up and reach for products that are not intended for them, but which they can grab on their own; they then tend to put these products in their mouths.

Laundry detergents, medicines and carbon monoxide are the most common causes of the most serious cases of poisoning

Laundry detergents, in particular liquid detergent pods, are the main type of cleaning product involved in poisoning, despite the fact that the number of poisoning cases caused by them has been halved through the implementation of mandatory European preventive measures since 2015. These products can have serious effects on health, ranging from respiratory distress if they are ingested to serious corneal damage if they get splashed in the eyes.

Although less commonly involved in cases of poisoning, liquid drain cleaners cause serious corrosive lesions in the oesophagus and stomach if accidentally swallowed.

Medicines such as ibuprofen, aspirin, paracetamol, antidepressants, anti-anxiety medicines and cardiovascular drugs are frequently responsible for serious cases of poisoning in children under the age of six years. Children under one year of age are most often the victims of therapeutic error on the part of their relatives or caregivers.

In the home, very young children are particularly vulnerable to carbon monoxide poisoning. This colourless, odourless toxic gas can be produced when heating appliances are used incorrectly. It is the leading cause of hospitalisation in intensive care units for children under the age of one year.

Some other causes of serious poisoning include cannabis and button batteries

Between 2014 and 2020, cases of poisoning due to the ingestion of cannabis increased in frequency, particularly in children under one year of age, and also in severity: the percentage of admissions to intensive care doubled for children under the age of six years (from 5% to 11%).

In addition, button batteries are an example of small objects that are particularly dangerous if swallowed, as they cause potentially fatal oesophageal lesions.

How can these accidents be prevented?

Accidents can happen very quickly. Here are a few things you can do to prevent them:

  • keep small objects and products out of the reach of children, even when children are not at home.
  • avoid decanting: when a cleaning product is transferred into a bottle of water, soda or fruit juice, children are particularly vulnerable to accidental ingestion.
  • put all medicines away in a safe place, whether prescribed for children, for family members, or for pets,
  • be sure to correctly use any heating appliances that may emit carbon monoxide.

A collaborative review covering the 2014-2020 period

These results are taken from a review of accidental poisoning cases involving children under the age of 15 years; it was carried out by ANSES from the beginning of 2014 to the end of 2020. The Agency used data from poison control centres and other health databases, in collaboration with Santé publique France and emergency medicine and toxicology experts from the CAPs: 

  • Data on emergency room visits from the Network for the Organisation of Coordinated Emergency Room Surveillance;
  • Data on hospitalisations from the French Programme for the Medicalisation of Information Systems;
  • Mortality data from the Epidemiology Centre on Medical Causes of Death.