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Call your family doctor or your poison control center if you have questions about possible poisoning. You can also go directly to your hospital's emergency department.

  • Don't assume that over-the-counter medications are safe when taken in excess. Call a poison control center for advice.
  • With many pills, it may take several hours or longer for symptoms to develop. Call a poison control center for advice.

Go to your hospital's emergency department if any of the following occurs

  • If someone looks ill after a poisoning or possible poisoning
  • An infant or toddler who may have ingested a poison, even if the child looks and feel fine
  • Anyone who has taken something in an attempt to harm himself or herself, even if the substance used is not known to be harmful
  • When you go to the hospital's emergency department, take all the medicine bottles, containers (household cleaners, paint cans, vitamin bottles), or samples of the substance (such as a plant leaf) with you.


Self-Care at Home

If you, a family member, or a friend has swallowed or breathed a poison and you have signs or symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, pain, trouble breathing, seizure, confusion, or abnormal skin color, then you must call either an ambulance or a poison control center for guidance.

As a rule, do not treat a poisoning at home.

Identify your closest poison control center from a comprehensive list of toll-free telephone numbers for poison control centers in all states at the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Place the telephone number (along with police, fire, and 911 or equivalent) near your home phones.

If you phone a poison control center, ask these questions:

  • Do I need to make the person throw up?
  • Is there an antidote I can give at home?

Vomiting: Vomiting will rid the body of poison only if the poison is still in the stomach. This is likely only for an hour or 2 after ingestion. After that time, the poison has either been absorbed in the stomach or has passed farther down the intestinal tract where it cannot be vomited up.

Syrup of ipecac is a liquid that, when swallowed, causes vomiting in 20-30 minutes. You should only give ipecac when told to do so by a medical professional. The following describes how to give ipecac, if directed to:

  • Give the victim a full glass of water (8-12 ounces) just before or just after drinking the ipecac.
  • Ipecac comes in a 2-ounce bottle. One ounce equals 30 mL; 1 tablespoon equals 15 mL, and 1 teaspoon equals 5 mL. The dose for adults and teenagers is 15-30 mL. The dose for children aged 1-12 years is 15 mL. The dose for infants aged 6-12 months is 5 mL.
  • If the victim has not vomited in 20-30 minutes, repeat the initial dose one time only.
  • Ipecac is sold without a prescription at most pharmacies. An unopened bottle will last several years at room temperature. It is a good idea to keep a bottle of ipecac at home for a poisoning emergency.


When not to induce vomiting

If the person has taken a sleeping pill or sedative, which has or may cause the person to become unconscious, do not make the person vomit. Do not use ipecac. These people are at an extremely high risk of "aspirating" the vomit. Aspiration means breathing the vomit into the lungs and possibly drowning. The victim may lose consciousness and accidentally breathe the vomit into the lungs.

  • If the victim swallowed a caustic substance, such as lye or Drano, it has already chemically burned the mouth and esophagus once and would do so again when vomited. If the victim swallowed a petroleum product, such as gasoline, kerosene, or paint thinner, these liquids can easily enter the lungs and cause severe damage. Vomiting increases the chance of this happening.
  • If the person is already vomiting from the poisoning, there is no need for ipecac to bring about vomiting.
  • If the person has swallowed a solid foreign object such as a pin, needle, fishhook, coin,

The key to a good outcome is rapid recognition that a poisoning has occurred and rapid transport to a qualified medical facility when indicated.

When medical care is provided promptly, the vast majority of people survive poisonings.

Poor outcomes can occur when these are the cause of the poisoning:

  • Highly toxic substances such as cyanide
  • Substances that injure body tissues immediately (lye or acids, for example)
  • Poisoning as a result of exposure over time—often unrecognized (some examples include polluted water, workplace exposures, and lead)


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