Nicotine Poisoning: How to Keep Your Child Safe

Congratulations, you have quit smoking. It is a huge step that can add years to your life and give you more time to spend with the ones you love. While quitting smoking is not an easy task, there is a whole industry now providing the products used to replace cigarettes called NRT or Nicotine Replacement Therapy. The most common items used to replace smoking are nicotine gum, the nicotine patch, and now the world has been introduced to the e-cigarette or vape.

The most common way children are exposed to nicotine and experience a reaction is direct exposure to nicotine they find around the house.

It goes without saying that anything left out, the kids will find, and that holds true in this case too. Kids will find a pack of gum and chew it or they will find a patch and use their bare hands to remove it from its applicator absorbing the nicotine through their skin. In a growing number of cases now, children are finding the liquid that is put into the vaporizers or e-cigarettes and drinking it because it looks like juice. In all of these examples the child gets exposed to nicotine and can have a reaction.

Nicotine poisoning tends to produce symptoms that follow a pattern. Nicotine poisoning symptoms are caused by extreme stimulation of nicotine in the central and autonomous system and the neuromuscular junction. At lower doses, nicotine causes stimulating effects on the receptors present there but at higher doses or more sustained exposure, the effects are inhibitory and can lead to neuromuscular problems.

The first symptoms are usually the result of the stimulating nature of nicotine. These include:

  • vomiting
  • hypertension
  • headaches
  • excessive salivation
  • seizures

After the first phase of symptoms, other symptoms caused by the depressor effects of nicotine follows. These include:

  • muscular weakness
  • central nervous system depression
  • paralysis
  • coma
  • labored breathing
  • respiratory failure

Exposure to electronic cigarettes and liquid nicotine is also quickly becoming a major issue. In 2014, more than 50 percent of nicotine poisoning cases occurred in children under the age of 6. Children and toddlers who come in contact with e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine become very ill very quickly and they exhibit all the symptoms. It is harmful to them and adults should be extremely careful where they keep or place these products.

According to Medline, nicotine overdose may present many potential symptoms. These can include:

  • Nausea and abdominal pain
  • Cramping
  • Restlessness or agitation
  • Irregular breathing – either rapid breathing or difficulty breathing
  • Convulsions
  • Confusion
  • Drooling
  • Burning sensation in the mouth
  • Weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Fainting

In severe cases, the person may stop breathing. Seizures and coma have also been reported.

If you find your child with any of these symptoms and believe they have ingested nicotine please take them to the emergency room right away or call 911 and get professional help. In the case that your child presents with irregular breathing or any type of altered mental status, please call 911 first.

While we all congratulate you for taking the steps to quit smoking, please be cognizant of the new items that you are using, where you keep those items, and the risk they can pose to your family.

Thank you and please be safe.


About the Author

Greg Atwood is a Firefighter /Paramedic in Coral Gables Florida and works for the Coral Gables Fire Rescue. He is an American Heart Association certified instructor in BLS ( Basic Life Support ), ACLS ( Advanced Cardiopulmonary Life Support ), and PALS ( Pediatric Advanced Life Support ). Greg currently lives in Miami Florida with his beautiful wife Alexa and their 2 sons, Connor and Jake. Greg is a former member of the PedSafe Expert team


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