Dangerous oils: risk of poisoning for children

There is hardly anything Germans love more in summer than barbecuing with family and friends. But dangers are not only posed by  burns, but also through the liquid grill lighters. Just like colorful lamp oils, small children like to drink them – with fatal consequences. According to the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment BfR, the most common cases of poisoning in children are caused by the ingestion of household products. In addition to cleaning agents, these are often also lamp oils and grill lighters – substances that are packaged in bottles and look as if they were intended for drinking. The lamp oils in particular are beautifully colorful and are reminiscent of sweet lemonades. They are sometimes drunk directly from the oil lamps by the children. Children from the age of two to four years are particularly at risk of being poisoned with oils containing paraffin (paraffinic hydrocarbons).

lamp oils and liquid grill lighters

Oils containing paraffin and petroleum distillates are contained in lamp oils for garden torches and oil lamps as well as in liquid barbecue lighters. Accidents involving these dangerous substances occur again and again – serious damage to health and even death can result.

The main danger is that the oils “creep” from the mouth into the lungs when swallowed and trigger severe inflammatory reactions there. Some of the children affected in recent years have had to be hospitalized for several weeks. Even small amounts, such as those ingested by sucking the wick, are dangerous. Symptoms of poisoning are severe  coughing ,  shortness of breath  (the child is gasping for air) and possibly accelerated breathing.

Child safety tips

  • Grill lighter liquids and lamp oils should be kept out of the reach of children – store them in a place where children’s fingers cannot reach after use.
  • Never fill such substances into beverage bottles; only use containers with child-resistant closures.
  • Use solid grill lighters in the form of cubes or bars – the liquid components are bound to sawdust or cork dust and do not get into the lungs if accidentally swallowed.
  • If you don’t want to do without wick lamps and garden torches, only use child-resistant lamps and less dangerous oils, eg rapeseed oil-based.

If, despite all precautionary measures, a child has drunk even the smallest amounts of liquid grill lighter, garden torch or lamp oil, the following rules apply:

  • Do not induce vomiting! Vomit, and with it the oil, can enter the lungs, making symptoms worse. Offer   to drink tea , water or  juice .
  • Persistent cough  is an alarm symptom! Keep your child upright. If you have a severe cough or even shortness of breath, call the emergency services (emergency number 112), if you have a slight cough, take your child to the children’s clinic.
  • No symptoms , but you suspect poisoning? Contact a poison control center or your pediatrician immediately.
  • Have the product/label in question ready  (on the phone or take the original packaging with you to the doctor) – the more information available, the more specific help can be provided.

Aromatic oils (fragrance oils, essential oils)

According to the BfR, fragrance oils that are not directly lit but vaporized are far less dangerous than lamp oils. As a rule, only larger amounts can trigger symptoms of poisoning by getting into the  gastrointestinal tract  and then into the blood. Possible consequences are  nausea  and vomiting, unsteady gait and changes in consciousness. Certain essential oils such as eucalyptus can cause potentially life-threatening vocal fold spasms in small children, and some aromatic oils cause intolerance reactions on the skin. They should therefore be used therapeutically (e.g. for  colds ) in smaller children only with caution or not at all.

Parents should keep essential oils and products containing these oils out of the reach of their children. If a child has swallowed an aromatic oil, the following rules apply:

  • Small amount (less than 1 ml) and normal child : No action needed.
  • Larger amounts and/or discomfort : Contact doctor.

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