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Are Essential Oils Safe For Children?

South Africa has joined the new oil boom and you can now readily find doTERRA and Young Living essential oils on our shores. With all the apparent “positive” effects these oils are having and especially since I am seeing so many parents use these oils on their children, I decided to do a little research, because for me, it’s all in the evidence.

WHAT ARE ESSENTIAL OILS?

Essential oils (EO) are not a new thing, they have been around for years. These oils are extracted from flowers, herbs and other plants and used to promote physical and emotional wellbeing.

Many pharmaceutical drugs used today are actually derived from plant sources. Drugs such as digoxin, quinine, morphine, codeine and aspirin all find their origins in plants. So it only makes sense to assume that essential oils must be effective against some medical conditions too.

IF IT’S NATURAL IT MUST BE SAFE?

Just because it’s natural does not always mean it is safe. Some of the most poisonous toxins in the world are found in plants – think belladonna and oleander.

Children have different absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion of substances compared to adults. They also have immature body systems, which all make them more sensitive to the side effects of essential oils, regardless of how ‘natural’ a substance may be. There are also some children who are more sensitive than others because they are more allergy-prone.

There are, of course, other concerns with essential oils. Concerns about carcinogenicity, mutagenicity and toxicity to the fetus in pregnant women and also what effects certain oils have on breastfed infants.

IT’S ALL IN THE RESEARCH

Using essential oils in low concentrations and inhaling their vapours is usually safe for most people. But when it comes to our little ones we can never be too safe. There is very little research available on the benefits of essential oils and even less on how these oils affect babies and children.

While aromatherapy has been practiced for centuries in various cultures, it has not yet been properly evaluated for medical effectiveness. Most of the research that has been done has not been done on human subjects and those that have been done on adults are poor quality.

While we can argue that there is some evidence to show that essential oils improve physical and emotional wellbeing, I have reason to be concerned with the drug-like claims some people make about these oils. Essential oils should NOT replace scientifically proven effective (and safe) medical treatments for medical conditions.

SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS WHEN USING ESSENTIAL OILS IN CHILDREN

  1. Essential oils are not a replacement for medical care.
  2. According to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, essential oils should not be used in babies younger than three months old.
  3. Children and babies should NEVER take essential oils orally.
  4. Always make sure you use a pure essential oil. Don’t use ones that are premixed with alcohol or other synthetic fragrances, as these can irritate the skin.
  5. Never apply an essential oil directly onto your child (and even your own) skin. Always mix it with a carrier oil such as coconut or grapeseed oil. You should probably ask a distributor about the difference between linoleic and oleic acids. Oils high in oleic acid are not recommended for sensitive skins prone to conditions such as eczema.
  6. Always dilute essential oils. Follow the recommended dilution ratios. If you are buying your EO from a distributor they should be able to give these to you.
  7. Diffusing oils is generally safer than applying them to the skin. If you are going to be using a diffuser, pay attention to your child’s reaction. Sometimes the oil particles enter the airways and can cause irritation especially if your little one has a reactive airway.
  8. If your child develops a rash or skin irritation, headaches, nausea and/or vomiting, coughing, wheezing or difficulty breathing, stop using the essential oils immediately and contact your healthcare provider.
  9. Do a patch test first to see if the oil causes irritation. Rub the oil into a small part of the forearm and wait 24 hours. If you notice any redness, swelling or a rash develop do not use this oil.
  10. Do not apply essential oils topically to children with sensitive skin, eczema or other chronic skin conditions as this can cause aggravation.

Remember as with all medications in your home, keep them out of sight and out of reach of your children because many essential oils are extremely toxic in overdose. Accidental poisoning with essential oils in children is becoming increasingly more common, since most essential oils smell nice. Children are also more likely to choke on these oils because of their bitter taste. This will send these oil particles straight into the lungs and cause aspiration pneumonia, which can be fatal.

All this being said, I am not anti-essential oils. In fact, I have seen some benefits of their regular and correct usage in my own household. However, what I am against is when parents claim that essential oils can prevent or treat medical conditions. Essential oils are prescribed to help promote wellbeing. Promote meaning to support and not cure.

Since there is no solid evidence that essential oils are safe and effective in children, major organisations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) do not recommend using them at all in children. My advice to parents is to use them as directed, as you would administer prescribed medication to a child. Not all oils can be used on children and some can only be used on children over a certain age. Do your homework. Natural does not equate to safe, so please always be mindful.

RESOURCES

https://www.healthline.com/health/parenting/essential-oils-for-babies#TOC_TITLE_HDR_1

https://healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/A_E/Essential-oils

https://parenting.nytimes.com/childrens-health/essential-oils-safe

https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/112/Supplement_1/240.abstract

https://www.poison.org/articles/2014-jun/essential-oils

When Your Child Eats A Silica Gel Sachet

I’m sure many of you are familiar with those little sachets you find in almost anything these days.  The ones with the massive “DO NOT EAT” all over them. I have seen my fair share of hysterical parents bring their kids into the ER with a history of having swallowed the contents. But are these sachets really that dangerous?

These little sachets contain silica gel, which is silicon dioxide (Si02). The sachet does not actually contain a gel but rather small beads. Silica is a desiccant, which means it absorbs water. It has millions of small pores that hold moisture and can absorb up to 40% of its weight, which is why you find it in products that would otherwise spoil from excess moisture.

IS SILICA TOXIC?

Silica gel is chemically inert and considered to be non-toxic. Silica gel packets contain less than 5g of silica gel. If this tiny amount is ingested, it basically passes through the digestive tract without being absorbed or digested.

While this means that the contents of these sachets are harmless, it would be quite unpleasant if these are handled or swallowed. The mouth, gums and tongue would become parched, and if the contents were swallowed and not spat out, this would result in a few self-limiting side effects. Most notably, dry throat, eyes and mucous membranes in the nose, together with stomach discomfort and depending on the amount swallowed, nausea, vomiting and constipation. If the sachet was opened and the contents handled, it can also dry out and irritate the skin.

FIRST AID FIRST

If you think your child has played with silica gel, practice the principles of first aid. Anywhere the silica has come in contact, will be irritated. Wash whatever parts of the skin have been in contact with the silica and moisturise afterwards. If the eye has been touched, then rinse with running water for up to 15 minutes. If the contents were swallowed the best thing you can do is offer continuous sips of water to relieve the stomach distress. Do not give anything to induce vomiting! You don’t want the silica to be inhaled, because it can cause a very irritating cough and shortness of breath. The symptoms of silica ingestion are self-limiting, meaning that eventually, they will go away on their own.

IF SILICA IS NON-TOXIC WHAT IS THE BIG DEAL?

The biggest concern with these sachets is choking. These tiny beads are a choking hazard for small children. Unfortunately, additives, such as moisture indicators, are also sometimes added to the silica which can then make it toxic.

WHAT ARE MOISTURE INDICATORS?

Some silica gel sachets have moisture indicators. These indicator sachets are available in different colours depending on the type of indicator used. You may also find some sachets which contain a mixture of both indicator and non-indicator beads. The blue “indicator” silica gel is the more common one you may find. The blue comes from either cobalt dioxide, methyl violet or some other toxic substance that gets added to the silica. These substances change colour when wet and therefore are a good indicator of a saturated silica gel sachet. Cobalt dioxide, in particular, is a known carcinogen and also affects fertility. The FDA is busy banning this additive altogether, and thankfully, these indicator sachets are not commonly found in consumer products. If your child does, however, come into contact with one of these, you should seek immediate medical assistance.

Always remember to discard these sachets immediately after opening your products. Given the uncertainty of the composition of some of these silica sachets, practice the principles of first aid and keep an eye out for any unusual signs and symptoms whenever your child comes into contact with silica. If there is any concern, head straight to your nearest emergency room and don’t forget to take the sachet with you so that the contents can be tested.

RESOURCES

https://www.productip.com/uploads/CClip_519_SilicaGel_20130827_v1.pdf

https://www.illinoispoisoncenter.org/my-child-ate-Silica-Gel

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3493316/

 

10 Essential Tips To Prevent Poisoning In Your Home

I was recently prescribed some analgesics for a small day procedure. That afternoon, when I got home, I placed the packet of meds on my dresser and later found my daughter sitting on the floor inspecting the packet. My heart stopped! This careless mistake could have had devastating consequences.

Unfortunately poisoning data in South Africa is lacking. One study dating back to 2012 found that the most common cause of accidental poisoning in SA children is pesticides. However, the list of potential poisons throughout our homes is extensive; here are just a few more obvious ones:

  • Medications
  • Household cleaners and disinfectants
  • Cosmetics and toiletries
  • Insect and rodent repellants
  • Weed killers and other outdoor chemicals
  • Swimming pool chemicals
  • Flea and tick shampoos and other products for pets

I have put together a list of some useful tips to prevent accidental poisoning at home. Some of them may seem fairly obvious but as I have recently experienced it is easy to forget.

  1. Keep all potential household and other hazards in their original containers. DO NOT transfer into coke bottles or Tupperware’s.
  2. Make sure seals of potential hazards are tight and secure before locking away. Please note that child resistant packaging of medications is NOT childproof.
  3. Keep potential hazards locked away in the highest cupboard with a childproof lock. The cupboard should even be high for you, as little minds can get quite creative with boxes and stools and climb up onto countertops.
  4. Keep potential hazards out of reach of children when in use and never leave bottles or buckets unattended.
  5. Never call medicine sweets/candy. This is a common mistake parents make in order to get their kids to take medicine when sick. This could lead to a child one day consuming an entire bottle of ‘sweets’.
  6. Never leave your handbag lying around and be extra cautious when you have visitors over as many people keep painkillers in their bags.
  7. Alcohol is often overlooked and is very dangerous to your little ones if consumed in excess. Keep alcohol out of reach of children especially when hosting parties.
  8. Any kind of battery can be dangerous if leaking or ingested. Keep remote controls and other battery containing devices away from children.
  9. If you are unsure about whether or not a household item is hazardous, assume it is and keep it locked away. Things that seem harmless are most often extremely dangerous.
  10. Most importantly TEACH your children about the dangers!

It may be a good idea to identify what potential hazards you have in your home. Do a check of every room in the house including your garage and make sure your home is safe.

RESOURCES

Balme, K., Roberts, J.C., Glasstone, M., Curling, L. & Mann, M.D. (2012) The changing trends of childhood poisoning at a tertiarychildren’s hospital in South Africa. South African Medical Journal. [Online] 102 (3), pp. 142-146. Available from: http://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0256-95742012000300023&lng=en&tlng=en [Accessed 8 August 2018].

Veale, D.J.H., Wium, C.A. & Müller, G.J. (2012) Toxicovigilance I: A survey of acute poisoning in South Africa based on Tygerberg Poison Information Centre data. South African Medical Journal. [Online] 103 (5), pp. 293-297. Available from: http://www.samj.org.za/index.php/samj/article/view/6647/5054 [Accessed 8 August 2018].

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