Over 30,000 concerned Kiwis put in a call to the National Poison Centre each year.

Meanwhile, ACC pays out hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to those who have suffered adverse effects from inhaling or ingesting toxins.

Lucy Shieffelbien from the National Poisons Centre said there are risks in the home - outside of common paracetamol poisoning and dishwashing liquid irritations - that many people rarely think about.

Unconsidered evils


The water from daffodil vases is highly toxic if a child drinks it, which does happen, according to Shieffelbien.

Nicotine replacement therapies such as gum and lozenges can be highly toxic to children - just one piece of nicotine gum is enough to send a child to hospital. Shieffelbien says children can't differentiate between them and ordinary chewing gum and lollies, so don't leave the therapies in places children might find them.

Pets are very sensitive to the effects of caffeine and ingesting even moderate amounts of coffee grounds, teabags or just a couple of diet pills can cause death in small dogs or cats.

Common misunderstandings

Shieffelbien says people often don't know the following:

"Child proof" caps aren't actually child proof. They are merely designed to hinder a child's access so keep substances out of sight and reach - preferably locked away.

Teaspoons can vary from 5ml to 10ml so always use a proper measuring spoon to ensure the correct dose.

Animal flea treatments should never be used on humans as they can cause serious side-effects.

The white tailed spider isn't poisonous. The katipo and redback are the only poisonous spiders in New Zealand.


Inducing vomiting is never the answer if a substance is swallowed. It can make you absorb the poison quicker, and it will burn not only on the way down but also on the way up. The vomit can also be breathed into the lungs causing choking and can make antidotes and treatments less effective.

Milk won't neutralise a poison. Shieffelbien says it's okay to rinse the mouth with a small amount of water or wipe it out with a clean wet cloth, but don't consume fluids unless instructed by the Poisons Centre or a doctor.

Peeing on a jellyfish sting doesn't actually neutralise it, neither does vinegar. The best treatment is to immerse the affected area in hot water.

Everyday risks

According to the National Poisons Centre, the following are poisons you're more likely to encounter day-to-day:

Paracetamol is relatively safe at the recommended doses, even for young children, but it is also one of the most common causes of poisoning. Too much can make you very sick and even cause liver damage.

Overdose of codeine can make you very drowsy and cause serious problems, including slowing your breathing and heart rate. As little as one tablet can be enough to make a small child sick.

Some people can have life-threatening allergic reactions to antibiotics. Therapeutic drugs, including antidepressants, opioids and anti-inflammatories can have side-effects, especially if taken by children. On that note, ACC says it's important not to give adult medicine to children.

Dishwashing liquid can irritate the mouth and throat and cause vomiting if swallowed. It can also damage eyes. Meanwhile, dishwashing powder can cause chemical burns if eaten, left on the skin or splashed into the eyes.

Undiluted bleach can cause chemical burns and is potentially dangerous if ingested or splashed into eyes. Don't mix bleach, or products containing bleach, with any other household cleaners as a chemical reaction can release toxic gases.

Alcohol in medicines, cleaning products and perfumes can cause drowsiness, inebriation and slurred speech. Small amounts can cause hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) in children, which can be very serious if not treated.

Some weedkillers can induce serious damage to the lungs, heart and kidneys. Slug and snail baits can also be toxic in small doses, especially to small children and pets.

Petrol is often stored in containers around the home and can easily be mistaken for another liquid. Ingesting it or inhaling vapours can make you very sick, including causing lung problems if swallowed and damaging eyes if not treated quickly.

Several varieties of poisonous mushrooms can trigger upset stomachs and hallucinations days or weeks after consumption. In extreme cases, they can cause severe irreversible damage to the liver or even death.

The good news - 75 per cent of poisoning inquiries can be treated safely at home with the correct advice.

Advice for the ages

The Poisons Centre receive large numbers of calls about incidents involving the very young and elderly.

Incidents regarding children under 5 are particularly common - making up 60 to 65 per cent of calls to the Poisons Centre.

Slightly more boys (57 per cent) than girls are poisoned.

Children who have swallowed magnets, button batteries, coins, sharp objects, lead objects and expandable objects such as tampons are among some of the calls to the centre.

Another common call is parents wanting advice after a child has swallowed non-toxic silica gel - the small packets included as a drying agent with some items, such as shoes.

Meanwhile, the centre receives about 2000 calls a year regarding older people who have accidentally poisoned themselves.

Often the person has attempted to read labels without their glasses or in the dark, or has automatically reached for a medication that has been moved from its usual place only to pick up something else by mistake.

Elderly people are also of concern as they are the most likely to store products out of their original containers because they generally use smaller quantities.

Grandparents' homes may also be less prepared for small children.

How to prevent disasters at home

Keep all chemicals and medicines in their original containers, with the label intact.

Store all chemicals and medicines separately from food, and out of sight and reach of children.

Put any chemicals or medicines straight back in their place of storage after use.

Dispose of chemicals and medicines that are no longer used.

Choose junior-strength or smaller-sized packaging to reduce the chance of serious poisoning if a child were to swallow some.

Keep the dishwasher door closed when not in use to avoid children getting into the dishwasher and eating the powder before or after the wash cycle.