When there are children at home, it is important to keep certain things out of their reach. Kerosene is definitely one of them.

There have been a number of instances of children ingesting kerosene mistakenly. Often, kerosene is stored in used water and soft drink bottles at home and children mistake it for water.

In fact, doctors say, cases of kerosene poisoning are high during summer, as children reach for the water bottles more frequently to quench their thirst.

It is more common among children below the age of five years.

But more than what to do in the case of kerosene poisoning, doctors are keen on highlighting what not to do.

“Do not try to make the child vomit as it can cause more harm to the lungs and stomach. Vomiting the ingested kerosene will cause aspiration to the lungs. Take the child to a hospital immediately,” says Rema Chandramohan, professor of paediatrics at Institute of Child Health (ICH), Egmore.

Consuming even one ml of kerosene is poisonous, says P. Ramkumar, senior assistant professor at ICH.

Kerosene’s effects on the body are not known immediately. “Since it is an evaporating liquid, it may lead to complications like chemical pneumonitis after a day or two. So, we do not take an X-ray immediately after ingestion, but after six hours,” he says.

Kerosene poisoning can result in vomiting, diarrhoea and bloody stools but this is rarely seen, say doctors. “If it comes in contact with the skin, it can cause irritation. Sometimes, the toxic fumes can cause seizures in children. In the worst scenarios, children are brought in a lethargic state and they may go into coma,” says Dr. Chandramohan.

Even if it is accidental ingestion, hospitals register a medico-legal case of kerosene poisoning.

“We observe the child to check if oxygen saturation is coming down or if the respiratory distress is increasing. If there is chemical pneumonia, we put the children on antibiotics. Until then, the treatment is symptomatic. In a majority of cases, children become stable and recover well,” she says.

Easy access to kerosene, especially in one-room houses, is a cause of concern. K. Githa, paediatrician and neonatologist, insists parents keep kerosene out of the reach of children.

The bottles should be tightly closed and kept beyond the reach of children, she says.

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