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first aid for poisoning

Poisoning occurs when a person comes in contact with a toxic substance. Contact can mean swallowing, inhaling, touching, or injecting a toxic substance.

What are the signs and symptoms of the injury? 
The signs and symptoms of the poisoning can include: What are the causes and risks of the injury? 
Poisons are found in many household items. Because they cannot read container labels, small children are more likely to be poisoned. Poisonous items include:
  • prescription or over-the-counter medications, including herbal medications
  • detergents
  • plants
  • pesticides
  • animals
  • paint
  • cosmetics
  • illegal drugs
  • occupational gases
  • foods
  • petrol, kerosene, and fuel oil
  • antifreeze
  • windshield washer fluid
  • household cleansers
  • charcoal lighter fluid
  • carbon monoxide
  • food that hasn't been properly cooked, canned, or stored
What can be done to prevent the injury? 
To prevent poisoning, follow these guidelines:
  • Keep all poisons out of children's reach.
  • Keep all prescription medications in a secure place out of children's reach.
  • Remove plants that can be poisonous to children or pets.
  • Teach children the meaning of the poison symbol on containers.
  • Be aware of poisonous substances around the house.
  • Report any industrial poisons that are harmful to family members to the state health department or city council.
  • Do not store toxic or noxious substances in food containers.
  • Label all storage containers.
Be aware that many substances meant to be eaten can be toxic if taken in large amounts.

How is the injury recognised? 
If a person is unaware that he or she has been exposed to poison or is too ill to say what has happened, poisoning can be difficult to diagnose and treat. Doctors can do blood and urine tests to determine the type of poison. If the poison is identified, seek emergency medical assistance and take the poison container. Doctors can provide appropriate treatment immediately if they know what the poison is.

What are the treatments for the injury? 
Call the local poison control centre to seek medical assistance. The phone number is in the front of most phone books. These centres are operated 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Keep the number and address in an easy-to-reach place.

If someone has swallowed poison:
  • Check for signs of circulation, such as normal breathing, coughing, or movement in response to stimulation.
  • Contact the emergency medical system immediately.
  • Start cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, if the person stops breathing. Use 15 chest compressions for every 2 mouth-to-mouth rescue breaths.
  • If the person does not need CPR, try to find out what poisoned him or her. Pay attention to burns or smells that may help to identify the poison.
  • Call the local poison control centre and follow the instructions given.
  • Do not induce vomiting unless told to do so. To induce vomiting take 1 tablespoon of syrup of ipecac followed by 2 glasses of water. Another way to induce vomiting is to give a glass of warm milk containing 3 teaspoons of salt or 1 teaspoonful of dried mustard.
  • If the person vomits, protect the airway by turning his or her head to the side. The rescuer should wear gloves or wrap his or her hand in a cloth before cleaning out the person's mouth. The poison is probably still inside the person's stomach.
  • Reassure and observe the person until medical help arrives. If there is poison on the clothing, remove the clothing. Clean the skin with water.
If someone inhaled poison:
  • Call for help. Be careful and cautious. Do not try to rescue the person until it is certain that the gas has been cleared from the area.
  • Remove the person from the area. Before doing this, the rescuer should hold a wet cloth over his or her nose and mouth, and open all windows and doors to get rid of the fumes.
  • After removing the person from the danger, check for signs of circulation, such as normal breathing, coughing, or movement in response to stimulation.
  • Contact the emergency medical system immediately.
  • Start cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, if the person stops breathing. Use 15 chest compressions for every 2 mouth-to-mouth rescue breaths.
  • Protect the airway by turning the head to the side if the person vomits. Try to clear the person's mouth of any vomit.
  • Stay with the person until medical help arrives.
  • To avoid becoming ill, the rescuer should avoid the area or make sure the poison has been cleared from the area.
What are the side effects of the treatments? 
vomiting is the most common side effect of treatment. This may be a natural reaction to the poison. If the poison control centre advises doing so, give the person syrup of ipecac to induce vomiting. Be aware that the vomit can be inhaled into the lungs causing aspiration pneumonia. People providing care should be careful, too. They could get sick from inhaling or being sprayed by the poison.

What happens after treatment for the injury? 
Most people recover fully from being poisoned. In some instances, there are serious injuries to the lungs or to the mouth and oesophagus, which is the tube leading from the mouth to the stomach. These people will require long-term follow-up care from a healthcare professional. Prevention is the key to avoiding future occurrences.

Author: James Broomfield, MD
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 19/12/2004
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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