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Five Everyday Household Substances That Can Kill Your Kids in Minutes

Five Everyday Household Substances That Can Kill Your Kids in Minutes

“Turn your back for a second…”

Yep, every mama and dada knows exactly how spot on that old adage is. As soon as bub starts to wriggle across the lounge, the safety police need to be out in force to remove every hazard and danger within ten miles.

There’s no escaping the fact that our childerbeasts love to explore and, chances are, when they do find something new and interesting, they stick it straight into their mouths (unless it’s something edible). Of course you’ve probably locked away the obvious dangers, like bleach, aspirin and alcohol, but how many everyday items pose a serious risk to bub’s health and wellbeing that you’re not actually aware of?

Scarily, some of the items you’ll read about below are oftentimes purposely used on little ones to clear a cold, ward off germs or ease teething pain.

Here are five everyday medicines/items that can be fatal to young children when used incorrectly. In some cases, the tiniest lick may be enough to cause serious problems and even death.

Household Substances that are Dangerous for Kids 


1) Anything containing camphor

Picture of Tiger Balm

Lock away: Tiger Balm, Vicks VapoRub, Ben-Gay, muscle rubs, moth balls.

Potential outcome of consumption: Breathing difficulties, seizures, coma, death.

What’s the problem?

Camphor is an extremely common substance that is found in a large amount of OTC products, especially muscle rubs and decongestants. Unfortunately, consuming just a tiny amount of campour can kill a toddler within just 10 minutes… giving mamas and dadas very little time to take action.

Campour-containing products can be fatal in doses of less than 1 teaspoon and the symptoms can emerge in less than 10 minutes. Signs that your child has eaten a product that contains campour are hyperactivity and restlessness, blue lips and mouth, and seizures. In the worst cases, your child may even fall into a coma and eventually die of respiratory depression.

If you smell campour on your child’s breath or there is the slightest chance that your littlie has consumed any product that contains campour, regardless of the amount and volume involved, call 995 (emergency ambulance) immediately, or seek urgent medical attention at your nearest hospital.

Important note: Not all hospitals in Singapore have facilities to treat children who have more serious cases of suspected poisoning. Take a look at our guide to what to do in poisoning emergency in Singapore for all the details.

Learn more: Dangers of camphor


2) Essential oils

Rosemary Herb Essence

Lock away: All essential and aromatherapy oils including Olbas Oil, tea tree oil, Thieves oil, On Guard and eucalyptus oil.

Potential outcome of consumption: Coughing, choking, respiratory distress, confusion, drowsiness, coma, convulsions, nausea, vomiting, hypotension, tachycardia.

What’s the problem?

So we have already concluded that Vick’s VapoRub is out… how about eucalyptus oil instead? Nope.

Want a nice lemongrass scent wafting through the home? How about special blend of immune-boosting oil to ward off germs? Nope, and nope again.

Ideally, you should not expose children under the age of two to the majority of essential oils, topically or inhaled, because many of them are actually highly toxic, despite their innocent natural source (See articles published by and the University of Minnesota). 

Burning essential oils that are high in 1,8-cineole (more than 40%) in the home should be avoided because they can cause serious issues for bub’s central nervous system and can result in breathing difficulties: “Essential oils high in 1,8-cineole or menthol can cause CNS and breathing problems in young children, and should not be applied to or near their face” (Essential Oil Safety by Robert Tissand).

Clinical studies indicate that many immune-boosting oil blends (Four Thieves Blend, Thieves Blend, On Guard, etc.) contain ingredients that are not safe for use on or around children. The issues relating to the use of the key constituents of these blends are well documented. 

Never, ever apply essential oils near the faces of children and, as per advice from the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy, do not use undiluted essential oils on your bub’s skin. If you really must use them, apply heavily diluted oils to the FEET only.  You should also avoid the temptation to place any material that has been treated with essential oil in your child’s cot and should not apply oil to their clothing. For more advice on using oils safely and some of the risks associated with use, see When to NOT use essential oils (Essential oils can cause seizures in kids).

If your child accidentally swallows some essential oil, you will need to act quickly because the majority of oils are highly poisonous and/or can cause swelling of the throat leading to choking. Do not induce vomiting, but get to your nearest emergency room/A&E as quickly as you can.

Learn more: You can find a full list of the most dangerous essential oils here: dangerous essential oils. For further information about the dangers of essential oil, see the advice from the US National Capital Poison Center. For more specific information about the use of Thieves, On Guard and similar blends around children: Thieves oil: what you must know and for a list of which oils are safe around children over the age of two see Using Essential Oils for Children.  

Lithium batteries

Picture of a lithium battery

Lock away: Lithium batteries, toys that have loose battery covers, any household items that include lithium batteries that can be accessed easily.

Potential outcome of consumption: Severe internal bleeding, severe hemorrhaging, life-changing injuries, potential death.

What’s the problem?

The biggest risk here comes in the form of those little button batteries that look so shiny and eatable to little kids yet are seriously dangerous. If swallowed, these innocent looking everyday items can cause death within just two hours, and they do not even have to be damaged or crushed to cause harm. Once swallowed, lithium batteries set up an electrical current in your child’s body and this results in the accumulation of caustic soda. This corrosive substance burns through your child’s feeding tube into major blood vessels and organs. Once internal bleeding has started, it is very difficult to stop.

For the less squeamish among you, in February 2014, Australian Jason Murray attempted to simulate the effect of a button battery getting caught in a child’s oesophagus by placing a  new CR2032 3V button battery in an uncooked pork sausage (a substitute for the oesophagus). Just 180 minutes later the outcome was pretty horrifying. You can see the images of the damage here: damage caused by lithium battery.

Keep loose batteries locked away, or place a piece of duct tape over the controller to prevent small children from accessing the battery. If you suspect your child has swallowed a battery, seek medical attention immediately. Do not attempt to force your child to vomit, and do not attempt the Heimlich manoeuvre, as these actions may cause the battery to get stuck in another area and increase the risk of injury.

Read more: Dangers of lithium batteries; Battery burns baby’s throat: a mother’s account; Hide and Seek: Button Batteries



Picture of Bonjela

Lock away: Pepto-Bismol, Alka seltzer, Bonjela, some products that are marked as Asian herbal remedies.

Potential outcome of consumption: Swelling of the brain, fluid on the lungs, seizures, death.

What’s the problem?

Salicylate has been linked with a deadly brain and liver condition called Reye’s syndrome. Products that contain salicylate salts should we kept well out of harm’s way because they have the same impact on the body as aspirin, something we all know shouldn’t be given to children who are under the age of 16.

In children less than 6 years of age, a teaspoon (5 mL) or less of oil of salicylate (in the form of wintergreen) has been implicated in several well-documented and researched deaths. Although Bonjela is regularly used as a teething gel, the adult form of the product SHOULD NOT be used on children under the age of 16.

Read more: Salicylate poisoning; Bonjela shouldn’t be used on children

Imidazolines (xoymetazoline, tetrahydrozoline or naphazoline).

 Picture of all clear eye drops

Lock away: Eye drops, ear drops, nasal sprays; e.g., Opti-clear, Visine, All Clear, etc.

Potential outcome of consumption: Nausea, vomiting, lethargy (sleepiness), tachycardia (fast heart beat), and coma.

What’s the problem?

Over-the-counter eyedrops and nose sprays contain powerful drugs that can be poisonous in surprisingly small amounts if swallowed. While no deaths have been reported to date, a recent review by the FDA revealed that there have been a number of serious cases of hospitalisation and even coma after children under the age of five consumed imidazolines. In some cases amounts as small as 1-2 mL were sufficient to lead to serious adverse affects.

As with all the other hidden dangers described on this list, store eye drops and nasal sprays out of reach of your kiddos at all times and seek emergency advice immediately if you suspect your little one has ingested any substance that contains imidazolines (oxymetazoline, tetrahydrozoline or naphazoline).

Read more: Poisoning from eye drops

Keep your child safe: some extra tips

  • Store medicines in a safe location that is too high for young children to reach or see.
  • Don’t use medication, oils or eye/nose drops in front of your children because they may attempt to mimic you at a later date.
  • Never leave medicines or vitamins lying around.
  • If a medicine bottle has a safety cap, relock it each time you use it.
  • Remind babysitters, houseguests, helpers and visitors to keep their handbags and pockets secure, especially if they are carrying medication with them.

Not sure what to do in a poisoning emergency? Check out the Singapore Baby guide to what to do in a poisoning emergency in Singapore.


Link to singapore baby subscribe pages

 The information contained in this website is for informational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice.

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  1. If you are not attacking a particular brand then why do you keep mentioning a particular brand? I see you have many references cited but I think you are using them way out of context. Do you know how to interpret Tisserand’s book? Do you understand that the toxicity levels cited there are impossible to reach just by inhaling any oil diffused using a diffuser, or that the toxicity levels are not reached unless you ingest multiple ounces of oil at one time? There is a difference between being informative with genuine concern versus creating hysteria over such natural products that do more harm than good.

    • Hi, thanks for your comments. I assume you intended to write “more good than harm” (although obviously I am a proponent of the current sentence structure) ;). I have linked to articles that examine various brands and I genuinely have no bias. I have talked about Thieves oil and Olbas oil in particular because I frequently see these being recommended for use on babies; it’s as simple as that. I wasn’t expecting the issue to be so controversial and certainly didn’t set out to create hysteria… personally, I prefer a drama-free life.

      I have read a lot of Tisserand’s work and am confident in my understanding of the risks. You place me in an awkward position here but, at risk of yet again being accused of attacking one particular brand, in the comments on the following thread you can read Tisserand’s views on the dangers associated with the inhalation (and use in fact) of the brand I believe you are referring to: He clearly doesn’t agree with your view pertaining to the low risk of toxicity from inhaling essential oils and, given he is widely regarded as a definitive essential oil expert who has completed a vast amount of unbiased studies in the area, I am inclined to place myself in his camp. Furthermore, I am discussing the use of these oils around very young children, whose lungs, skin and neurological pathways are still very fragile. Finally, you can read about the issues associated with inhalation of pure essential oils on page 78 of this guide: This is the advice of qualified scientists, not distributors or marketers. Interestingly, the advice issued by the people who actually manufacture/distribute many of the oils I have mentioned in this article is around 80% aligned with what I am suggesting here anyway: Use heavily diluted if you must use on babies, don’t burn oils, don’t give orally and don’t use on or around the face.

      I myself use, and like, essential oils and am a huge proponent of natural living. However, I do not use essential oils on or around my little girl; that’s the long and short of it. I stand by my article and the relevance of the research I have quoted (far, far too many scientists advising against the use of essential oils [natural, blends, various grades and sources] on children under two). In truth, I could have included at least twenty or thirty more studies and pieces of research pertaining to the dangers of essential oil use in adults and children but I chose not to (there’s only so many Daily Mail articles I can endure).

      I am not telling parents to just take my word for it; I urge them to do their own research and make up their own minds. I genuinely have no agenda and I am sure you’ll agree I am entitled to present my views and the findings of my research… just in the same way you are, and no doubt do. As I have specified, I am happy to present an alternative point of view in the form of any studies (from independent sources) that specify it is safe to use essential oils on children under the age of two, “therapeutic grade” or not. Until then, I won’t be commenting on this matter any further. I wish you the best of luck with your endeavours.

  2. Hi in ur website u state these oils as highly poisonous. Do u have any proof? Because these oils are from plants like peppermint. In which way are they poisonous? Is synthetic drugs safer?

    • Hi, I have included several links to documents that provide scientific proof that some essential oils are toxic. Have you read them? There is plenty of evidence there, you need to take the time to read it properly. It is the concentration of the plant extract that creates the potential health risks. A small amount of oil extracted from the peel of an orange= no problem; however, the essential oil version of orange oil is HEAVILY concentrated and contains volatile compounds. Essential oils are actually chemicals. Don’t take my word for it, here is the view of a qualified doctor: Here is another article that contains a discussion on peppermint in particular:

      You ask me if synthetic drugs are safer. Comparing synthetic drugs with essential oils is like trying to compare apples with pears. That said, most parents are fully aware of the need to exercise caution when using drugs/pharmaceuticals with their children; however, they may not be so aware of the potential risk that essential oils pose, especially if these products are consumed. As with pharmaceuticals, essential oils should not be left within the reach of tiny hands. The objective of this article is not to assess whether essential oils are better/more effective/safer than synthetic drugs and vice versa, it is intended to inform parents of the risks of leaving certain substances in reach of children.

      By the way, you may also be interested to know that the majority of active pharmaceuticals are also derived from plants in the first instance, but that’s a whole different story…

  3. Thanks for your info. Actually whether herb is poisonous or not depends on a dosage as well. So I think it’s good to gather knowledge on how much to apply. And ESP for babies always dilute and test patch. To say peppermint oil is poisonous by nature is hardly an accurate observation as well. By over consuming synthetic drugs they become poisonous as well. So I feel it depends on the user and the dosage. 🙂

  4. Thank you for being brave enough to bring attention to the potential dangers of oils. No matter the brand you buy or model you choose to follow, EOs can be dangerous if used improperly. I love my EOs, but I also appreciate when others choose to exercise caution, especially when it comes to giving and following advice about how to use them with babies.


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