Out of Harms Way

Recognising the risks of brightly coloured pills (and washing pods) to children

Dr Sharryn Gardener

Who on earth would design serious medications in bright colours like sweets?

Actually for the adults it makes sense. Not only can (often elderly) patients get confused with a group of medications which all look similar, there is also lots of evidence that colours really influence how effective the medication is. 

For example capsules are perceived to be more effective than tablets and red in particular is felt to be effective. Yellow is felt to be more effective in anti-depression medications for example and blue is not seen as an effective medication – partly why the famous little blue pill stands out on it’s own. Interestingly the shape of tablets / capsules are also limited to what is easily swallowed so again that little blue pill stands out as it was diamond-shaped.

So there are capsules which are green & beige, red & yellow, red & white for example. Toddlers in particular may thing they are sweets. Tablets may also be covered in a sugar-coat to make them more palatable to adults and so children may swallow them.

While parents and carers may panic when children take tablets like this, the vast majority require nothing at all or some observation and perhaps some baseline tests such as an ECG. Observation is often the best treatment!

We do need to remember that the average toddler may be around 12 kg compared to an average adult at around 80kg. 

Some however can be much more dangerous and there is even a list of medications that can kill child with one pill. There is an infographic on this called ‘One Pill Kills’

The most important thing is to keep them high up away out of reach and to remind grandparents of this too.

Here are some useful links: