Sore throat

Updated 12 August 2016

What the Doc will do if a child swallows bleach

Dr Owen Wiese explains why swallowing bleach is not as serious as one might think, and how important it is for parents to stay calm.

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Often parents will rush into the emergency room with a child that swallowed bleach.

Even though all poisonings should be examined by a doctor, swallowing bleach is rarely a life-threatening emergency.

That being said, it really depends on the age of the child, the amount of bleach swallowed and the type of bleach your child ingested. Because bleach tastes so awful, they normally only swallow a little bit.

Read: 9 ways to prevent sore throats

Why do children swallow bleach? Because it looks like water.

Children will not, like adults, first sniff an unknown substance to figure out what is. They just go for it and take a sip.

Luckily, bleach has a terrible taste, and most children never take in more than a mouthful.

This small amount of bleach may cause a number of unpleasant symptoms like nausea and vomiting, but is usually not enough to cause any serious damage.

Read: Coughing up blood: when should you be concerned?

Things parents do that might make matters worse:

1. Keeping bleach in unmarked containers on low shelves is a recipe for disaster. Keep it out of the reach of children.

2. Shouting, screaming and becoming hysterical when realising one's child ingested bleach will only worsen matters and upset the child.

3. Inducing vomiting. This is not a good idea and often the worst thing you can do. In an upset child, vomiting can cause some of the vomitus to end up in the lungs. This is potentially fatal.

What parents should do:

1. Give your child 150 to 200 ml water or milk. (less or more depending on the child's age)

2. Rinse the child's mouth.

3. Take the container containing the bleach with when going to the hospital.

4. If you notice severe vomiting or difficulty breathing your child needs immediate attention.

5. Take off all clothes that might have spilled bleach on them. The fumes may upset your child and may make matters worse if they suffer from asthma.

The bottom line: keep containers with poisons away from children! It is your responsibility as a parent to ensure the safety of your child.

Read more:

Poisons lurking in the home

Poisoning

Childproof your home

Dr. Owen J. Wiese is Health24's resident doctor. After graduating from Stellenbosch University with additional qualifications in biochemistry and physiology he developed a keen interest in providing medical information through the media.