Accidental Poisoning: Can Charcoal Help My Child?
Accidental poisoning in children is a real, serious, and increasing problem. Every thirty minutes, a child experiences accidental poisoning. According to the World Health Organization, accidental poisoning rates as the fourth highest cause of death for children. Poison control logs millions of calls each year from concerned caretakers. There are many toxic substances children can find and swallow. Dangerous substances commonly ingested are cleaning products, medications, cosmetics, pesticides, fuels, and poisonous plants.
Charcoal Poisoning Intervention
Time is of the essence when it comes to poisoning. Charcoal is the treatment of choice for poisoning or drug overdose in children, as well as adults, but it is most effective sooner rather than later. Studies done with volunteers suggest that activated charcoal is more likely to reduce poison absorption if it is given within one hour of ingesting the poison. In this study on the use of activated charcoal in pediatric populations, Jennifer A. Lowry, MD affirmed the efficacy of charcoal with the following statement:
“When activated charcoal is given as a single dose within 1 hour after ingestion of a solid toxicant, it can significantly reduce the extent of absorption and as a consequence, reduce and/or ameliorate symptoms associated with poisoning.”
Getting a Child to Drink Charcoal
The efficacy of activated charcoal used in clinical settings is undisputed, but is it as effective when used in a home setting? While there is no question of activated charcoal’s superiority over every other known antidote, some suggest it is poorly accepted by young children, making the administering of the recommended dose a little trickier. In Dr. Lowry’s article on the use of activated charcoal in pediatric populations, she also addressed the palatability of charcoal for children.
“In contrast, an earlier study assessed the validity of the assumption that activated charcoal is difficult to administer to children. Fifty young children who presented to an Emergency Department after an accidental ingestion were given 10 grams of activated charcoal in water after other emergency treatment had been administered. If ipecac had been given, the activated charcoal was given only after emesis had stopped. The activated charcoal was given to the child by the nurse or parent. The child was “told in a firm but kindly manner to drink the contents of the cup, that the substance did not taste bad, that it would not make him sick, that it would make him feel better”. Even after vomiting, 86% of the children drank the slurry of activated charcoal and water. Seventy-six percent of these children drank the complete dose. This implies that the perception that children will not take the activated charcoal may be erroneous and that discomfort may be mainly felt by the emergency personnel.”