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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/

 

Top Choking Hazards For Babies and Toddlers

We recently went to a very popular restaurant for lunch and to my astonishment there were vending machines with gumballs and other small toys, right next to the jungle gym. This is a disaster waiting to happen!

Children under 3 are at the highest risk of choking because their airways are so small. Plus, chewing and swallowing is a lot more difficult for them. They also love to put foreign objects in their mouths. There is a cylindrical tool in the US used to measure toy parts that is the same size as a young child’s throat. If a toy part fits into this cylinder it’s a choking hazard and a warning label has to appear on the toy packaging. Therefore any object smaller than 3 cm wide is a choking hazard for small children.

WHAT IS A CHOKING HAZARD?

Any object that can get caught in a child’s throat and block the airway is a choking hazard.

TOP 10 HOUSEHOLD CHOKING HAZARDS

Once your baby starts to crawl and explore, choking hazards are all of a sudden everywhere.

  1. Coins
  2. Small caps of bottles e.g. juice and water bottles
  3. Small round batteries
  4. Jewellery
  5. Buttons
  6. Toys and toy parts
  7. Balloons (uninflated or popped)
  8. Garden pebbles
  9. Nails and screws
  10. Stationary e.g. staples, paper clips and pen lids

If you have older kids too, you should keep their toys separate and make sure they learn to pack their toys away.

There are countless more choking hazards. You should probably get down on your knees and have a look at your child’s eye level. How many more choking hazards can you find?

TOP 10 FOOD CHOKING HAZARDS

Hotdogs, grapes and popcorn are the top 3 causes of choking in children under the age of 3. Young children have a hard time chewing their food since they lack the proper dentition (canines for tearing and molars for grinding). They are still trying to coordinate chewing, and as a result, often just swallow their food whole. This makes smooth, slippery, round and hard foods especially dangerous.

The foods in the list below are not recommended for children under 4 years of age. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) goes even further and recommends that hotdogs, grapes and popcorn not be given to children until they are at least 5 years old.

If you do however want to give your children some of these foods, then cut them in such a way that you change their round shape. Hotdogs should be cut lengthwise before slicing and skins of other sausages removed. Grapes and other round fruit should be cut into quarters.

  1. Whole grapes, cherry tomatoes and other round balls of fruit (blueberries are ok for toddlers as they are soft to chew)
  2. Hot dogs and other sausages
  3. Popcorn
  4. Tough, large pieces of meat
  5. Fruit pips and stones
  6. Nuts and seeds
  7. Hard round sweets and caramels
  8. Raw vegetables, especially carrots
  9. Marshmallows
  10. Chewing gum

BE CAREFUL

  • Children can trip and choke more easily if playing and eating at the same time. Your child should not walk, run or lie down while eating. Children should not be distracted whilst eating. They must sit upright and concentrate on what they are doing.
  • It is also not advisable to have your young child eat in their car seat whilst you’re driving. You might not even notice if they’re choking.
  • You should always supervise your child when they are eating.

It’s important that all parents and caregivers learn first aid for choking and CPR. There are many training academies that offer such courses around the country that are usually done over one day and will make you feel more confident when dealing with childhood emergencies.

RESOURCES

Altkorn, R. et al. (2008) Fatal and non-fatal food injuries among children (aged 0–14 years). International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology, [online] 72 pp. 1041—1046. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165587608001298 [Accessed 24 October 2018].

CDC (2018) Choking Hazards [online]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/infantandtoddlernutrition/foods-and-drinks/choking-hazards.html [Accessed 24 October 2018].

The Dangers of Party Balloons

We recently celebrated my daughter’s two-year birthday and, of course, decorated the house with balloons. No children’s birthday party is complete without balloons and although they are very popular with kids, they can also be extremely dangerous. Which is why I wanted to do a post on the potential dangers of balloons:

CHOKING HAZARD

Children can choke on balloons if they breathe them in whilst trying to blow them up. This happens when a child takes in a deep breath before inflating the balloon and accidently sucks the balloon back into his or her mouth. A child can also choke if they swallow deflated balloons or pieces of popped balloons they may chew on. If a balloon pops in a child’s face the child can also inhale the balloon pieces as they fly through the air.

Latex is a dangerous material to choke on as it can fit tightly in the throat and cause a complete airway obstruction very quickly. Whilst foil balloons are usually blown up with helium they can also become a choking hazard if deflated balloons or broken pieces are swallowed. There was a widely reported incident in 2016, where a three-year-old suffocated after putting the foil balloon over her head.

BURSTING HAZARD

Balloons can pop without warning. They can pop if children play with them roughly or if little children chew on them. Poor quality balloons can also pop more easily even if they aren’t being rough-handled. Children can also trip over balloon strings and fall onto the balloons popping them. If balloons pop near a child’s face they can cause serious damage to the eyes as well as cuts to the face.

STRANGULATION HAZARD

This may be an overlooked hazard. The colourful strings and ribbons that are tied to balloons can become a strangulation hazard as children become tangled.

ALWAYS KEEP IN MIND

  • Keep uninflated balloons away from children
  • Do not let children blow up balloons
  • Inflated balloons should be kept out of reach of children
  • Children should never play with inflated balloons
  • Always supervise children when inflated balloons are around
  • Throw away deflated and popped balloons immediately
  • Throw away balloon strings immediately when balloons deflate and pop

In the United States the Child Safety Protection Act requires a warning to be placed on any latex balloon or toy containing a latex balloon. This warning states that children under eight years of age are at risk of choking or suffocating on uninflated or broken balloons. Similarly, in the EU, children under the age of eight are actually legally banned from blowing up balloons without adult supervision.

However, children as old as 10 years have been found, on autopsy, to have suffocated from a balloon, which makes it difficult to define what age is actually safe for kids to handle balloons.

I think its important to stress to your kids that party balloons are not toys. They are purely for decoration and should always be properly secured and disposed of after use.

RESOURCES

CPSC (2012) CPSC Warns Consumers of Suffocation Danger Associated with Children’s Balloons. [online] Available from: https://www.cpsc.gov/s3fs-public/5087.pdf [Accessed 6 September 2018].

Francis, P.J. & Chisholm, I. H. (1998) Ocular trauma from party balloons. British Journal of Opthalmology, [online] 82 (2). Available from: https://bjo.bmj.com/content/82/2/203.1 [Accessed 6 September 2018].

Meel, B.L (1998) An Accidental Suffocation by a Rubber Balloon. Medicine, Science and the Law, [online] 38 (1), pp. 81-82. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1177/002580249803800113 [Accessed 6 September 2018].

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