A poison is a substance that has toxic
effects and may injure you or make you sick if you are exposed to it. Poisons
can be found everywhere, from simple household cleaners to cosmetics to
houseplants to industrial chemicals. Even medicines that are taken in the wrong
dose, at the wrong time, or by the wrong person can cause a toxic effect.
Poisonous substances can hurt you if they are swallowed, inhaled, spilled on
your skin, or splashed in your eyes. In most cases, any product that gives off
fumes or is an aerosol that can be inhaled should be considered a possible
poison. More than 90% of poisonings occur in the home.
children have the highest risk of poisoning because of their natural curiosity.
More than half of poisonings in children occur in those who are younger than
age 6. Some children will swallow just about anything, including unappetizing
substances that are poisonous. When in doubt, assume the worst. Always believe
a child or a witness, such as another child or a brother or sister, who reports
that poison has been swallowed. Many poisonings occur when an adult who is
using a poisonous product around children becomes distracted by the doorbell, a
telephone, or some other interruption.
Young children are also at high risk for accidental poisoning from non-prescription and prescription medicines. Even though medicine bottles are packaged to prevent a child from opening them, be sure to keep all medicines away from where children can reach them.
Teenagers also have an
increased risk of poisonings, both accidental and intentional, because of their
risk-taking behaviour. Some teens experiment with poisonous substances such as
by sniffing toxic glues or inhaling aerosol substances to get "high." About
half of all poisonings in teens are classified as
suicide attempts, which always requires medical
Adults—especially older adults—are at risk for
accidental and intentional poisonings from:
The symptoms of a suspected
poisoning may vary depending on the person's age, the type of poisonous
substance, the amount of poison involved, and how much time has passed since
the poisoning occurred. Some common symptoms that might point to a poisoning
Poison control centres, hospitals, or your doctor can
give immediate advice in the case of a poisoning. Have the poison container with you so
you can give complete information to the poison control centre, such as what
the poison or substance is, how much was taken and when. Do not try to make the person vomit.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away.
Call the local poison control centre or your doctor today for more information.
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be
able to take care of this problem at home.
Based on your answers, you need
or other emergency services now.
Changes in behaviour that can be caused by poisoning can include:
Symptoms of difficulty breathing can range from mild to severe. For example:
Shock is a life-threatening condition that may occur quickly
after a sudden illness or injury.
Symptoms of shock in a child may include:
Shock is a life-threatening condition that may quickly occur
after a sudden illness or injury.
Symptoms of shock (most of which will be present) include:
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind
of care you may need. These include:
Call your local poison control centre, hospital, or doctor immediately. Have the poison container with you so
you can give complete information to the poison control centre. Do not try to make the person vomit.
The poison control
centre will be able to help you quickly if you have the following information
If the poison control centre recommends medical evaluation,
take the product container or substance and any stomach contents that the
person vomited to help doctors determine the seriousness of the
Do not use syrup of ipecac. It is no
longer used to treat poisonings. If you have syrup of ipecac in your home,
call your pharmacist for instructions on how to dispose of it and throw away the container. Do not store anything
else in the container.
Activated charcoal is also not used at home to treat poisonings.
The poison control centre has guidelines on what treatments are needed for all types of poisons.
If a poisoning was intentional, first get help as described above. Then check your local phone book or provincial website for suicide resources on getting help in your area.
Follow the instructions you received from your
doctor or the poison control centre about seeking medical evaluation. Call your
doctor if any of the following occurs during home treatment:
About 80% of poisonings occur in children
ages 1 to 4 years. Develop poison prevention habits
early, before your child is crawling. Babies grow so fast that sometimes they
are crawling and walking before you have time to protect them.
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your
doctor treat poisoning by being prepared to answer the following questions. Be
sure to bring the poisonous substance with you.
Many of the resources below provide help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in multiple languages. In an emergency, call 911.
Check your local phone book or provincial or territorial website.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerWilliam H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerH. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Current as ofMay 22, 2015
Current as of:
May 22, 2015
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
& Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
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