Objective: To determine the symptoms and signs of eucalyptus oil poisoning in infants and young children, to estimate the toxic dose and to recommend management strategies.
Design and setting: Retrospective analysis of case histories of children admitted to the Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne, between 1 January 1981 and 31 December 1992 with a diagnosis of eucalyptus oil poisoning.
Main outcome measures: Demographic data, circumstances of ingestion, doses, clinical effects, management, complications and duration of hospital stay.
Results: 109 children (mean age, 23.5 months; range, 0.5-107) were admitted; clinical effects were observed in 59%. Thirty-one (28%) had depression of conscious state; 27 were drowsy, three were unconscious after ingesting known or estimated volumes of between 5 mL and 10 mL, and one was unconscious with hypoventilation after ingesting an estimated 75 mL. Vomiting occurred in 37%, ataxia in 15% and pulmonary disease in 11%. No treatment was given for 12%. Ipecac or oral activated charcoal was given for 21%, nasogastric charcoal for 57%, and gastric lavage without anaesthesia for 4% and under anaesthesia for 6%. All patients recovered. Hazardous treatment and overtreatment were common. For 105 children, mean hospital stay was 22 hours (range, 4-72 h) and for 13 patients mean intensive care unit stay was 18 hours (range, 4-29 h). In 27 patients who ingested known doses of eucalyptus oil, 10 had nil effects after a mean of 1.7 mL, 11 had minor poisoning after a mean of 2.0 mL, five had moderate poisoning after a mean of 2.5 mL and one had major poisoning after 7.5 mL (P = 0.0198).
Conclusions: Ingestion of eucalyptus oil caused significant morbidity in infants and young children. Significant depression of conscious state should be anticipated after ingestion of 5 mL or more of 100% oil. Minor depression of consciousness may occur after 2-3 mL. Airway protection should precede gastric lavage.