Jessica Landim had a bottle of camphor essential oil by her bedside. The British mother is now warning other parents of the dangers of keeping such a product within reach of children after her 11-month-old managed to grab a hold of it.
As the Liverpool Echo reports, Landim, 23, was at home with her daughter, Leila, when the little girl began coughing and seizing. Jessica’s mother told her the toddler had grabbed a bottle of camphor oil kept by the bed and “taken it towards her face.”
Landim told the Echo her daughter’s clothes were covered in oil and that she was visibly very, very ill:
“She started coughing in a desperate way — I thought she was choking.
She was having mini-seizures, her lips turned blue and really big. Then her tongue was rolling around out of her mouth, and she was only breathing every five to 10 seconds.
There was lots of oil on her clothing. She was foaming at the mouth too, and looking through me. I was shaking, it’s indescribable how you feel — I stil can’t stand still.”
Leila was rushed to the intensive care unit at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital and put on a breathing machine. Doctors reportedly told the toddler’s family had it not been for life support, Leila wouldn’t have survived longer than four hours after ingesting the oil.
According to the Echo, Landim pleaded with experts to contact her with information to help her daughter pull through; however, after nine days in intensive care, Leila passed away.
Landim said she was unaware of the dangers associated with essentials oils:
“These are household essentials, and I don’t think people realise how serious it can get — we didn’t.”
A 2001 article for Paediatrics & Child Health explained that essential oils such as camphor oil and eucalyptus oil have been used for centuries as topical remedies and used in treatments for coughs and colds. Although research cited in the report focused on Canada, camphor oil, one of the two oils most often responsible for poisonings in young children in Canada (the other being eucalyptus oil) is widely available in the U.S.
Camphor oil is found in products to treat colds such as Vicks VapoRub, anti-itch products such as Benadryl Itch Stopping Gel, and muscle pain relievers such as Tiger Balm. Camphor oil, also referred to as camphorated oil, is absorbed by the skin and mouth, and if ingested, it can be life-threatening.
According to the report, the effects of ingesting camphorated oil are gastrointestinal irritation and depression of the central nervous system. Symptoms usually begin within five to 10 minutes after ingestion and peak within 90 minutes. The effects on the central nervous system can range from mild excitation to grand mal seizures or status epilepticus.
In 2011, president Michael Cohen of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices wrote on Philly.com about the seriousness of keeping products containing camphor oil away from children after reports of harmful exposure to kids continued to occur.
Cohen reported several cases in which children had come into contact with camphor oil after being given it as either a topical treatment or as an inhalant for cold symptoms.
In one case, a 15-month-old was admitted to the emergency room with vomiting and seizures after licking a cube of camphor oil placed in a bowl of water in the child’s room and added to the humidifier to treat the child’s cold.
A 15-month-old girl was also brought to the emergency room with seizures after her mother applied a camphor chest rub too often to treat her daughter’s cold — once every hour for 10 hours.
Cohen warned parents to keep all camphor products out of the reach of children and not to use them in humidifiers. Cohen also urged parents not to use camphor oil as a pest repellent after a 22-month-old was rushed to the emergency room after his parents found him with a cube of camphor in his mouth that had been used to keep cockroaches away.
The National Capital Poison Center advises calling Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 immediately if someone swallows an essential oil or a product containing one. According to the Center:
Many people think essential oils are harmless because they are natural and have been used for a long time. In some cases, that is simply not true.
As for Landim, following her daughter’s passing, she told the Liverpool Echo:
“She had the biggest smile, and that she isn’t smiling now, it’s not right.”
The mom added: “To me, she’s still alive. She’ll always live — whether it’s just in my heart, she will live on.”