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 Emergency & First Aid: Poisoning: First Aid for Poisoning - Emergency Conditions 
American Institute for Preventive Medicine ©


Poisons are harmful substances that are swallowed, inhaled, or that come in contact with the skin. Each year about 10 million poisonings occur; 80% of them are in children under five years old.

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and symptoms depend on the substance. They include a skin rash, upset stomach, and more severe problems. Some poisons can cause death.


Things Not Meant to Be Swallowed or Inhaled

  • Household cleaners, such as bleach, drain cleaners, ammonia, and lye.
  • Insecticides. Rat poison.
  • Gasoline. Antifreeze. Oil. Lighter fluid. Paint thinner.
  • Lead.
  • Airplane glue. Formaldehyde.
  • Rubbing alcohol. Iodine. Hair dye. Mouthwash. Mothballs.
  • Some indoor and outdoor plants.
  • Carbon monoxide. This has no color, odor, or taste.

  • Things That Are Poisonous in Harmful Amounts

  • Alcohol. Drugs. Over-the-counter and prescribed medicines.
  • Medicinal herbs.
  • Vitamins and minerals. Iron in these can be deadly to a small child.

  • See also Food Poisoning and Bites & Stings.


    Treatment depends on the poison and its effects. Information to give the Poison Control Center, emergency department, etc.:

  • The name of the substance taken.
  • The amount and when it was taken.
  • A list of ingredients on the label.
  • Age, gender, and weight of the person who took the poison. How the person is feeling and reacting. Any medical problems the person has.
  • Questions to Ask

    Is the person unconscious, having convulsions, or not breathing? {Note: See "First Aid For Unconsciousness"; "First Aid For Seizures with Convulsion"; and Rescue Breathing.}

    After being in a closed space with a heater or furnace on, are signs of carbon monoxide poisoning present?

  • Lethargy. Confusion. Agitation.
  • Sudden shortness of breath.
  • Severe headache. Abdominal pain.
  • Seizure.
  • Chest pain or irregular heartbeat.
  • Signs of shock.
  • Do any of these problems occur?

  • Pulse rate is 140 or more beats per minute or 40 or fewer beats per minute.
  • Shortness of breath. Breathing 10 or fewer breaths per minute. Time lapses of more than 8 seconds between breaths.
  • Any change in mental status.
  • Hallucinations.
  • (Note: First, call Poison Control Center 800.222.1222.)

    Has any substance been swallowed,inhaled, or absorbed by the skin that has "Harmful or fatal if swallowed" or a skull-and-crossbones sign on the label? Or, did the person take a substance that could be poisonous.

    (Note: First, call Poison Control Center 800.222.1222.)

    Self-Care / First Aid

    For Swallowed Poisons

  • 1.If the person is unconscious, shout for help. Call 9-1-1!
  • 2.For a conscious person, call the Poison Control Center (800.222.1222). Follow instructions. Do not give Syrup of Ipecac to induce vomiting unless the Poison Control Center tells you to. {Note: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents don't give Syrup of Ipecac to children.}
  • 3.Lay the person on his or her left side to keep the windpipe clear, especially if the person vomited. Keep a sample of the vomit and the poison container.

  • For Inhaled Poisons

  • 1.Protect yourself. Move the person to fresh air (outdoors if you can). Try not to breathe the fumes yourself.
  • 2.Follow steps 1 and 2 above for Swallowed Poisons. Get medical care.

  • For Chemical Poisons on Skin

  • 1.Protect yourself. Flood the skin with water for 5 or more minutes. Remove clothing that was in contact with the person.
  • 2.Gently wash the skin with soap and water. Rinse well. Get medical care.

  • Prevention

  • Buy household products, vitamins, and medicines in child-resistant packaging. Keep these and all poisons out of children's reach.
  • Put child-resistant latches on cabinet doors. Follow instructions for use and storage of pesticides, household cleaners, and other poisons.
  • Keep products in original containers. Don't transfer them to soft drink bottles, plastic jugs, etc.
  • Teach children not to take medicine and vitamins unless an adult gives it to them. Don't call these "candy" in front of a child.
  • Wear protective clothing, masks, etc. when using chemicals that could cause harm if inhaled or absorbed by the skin.
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors in your home and garage.
  • (Excerpted from Healthy Self: The Guide to Self-Care and Wise Consumerism)
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