Q: If someone in my home swallows a poisonous substance, what should I do first—call the poison control hotline? Call 911? Make them vomit?
A: Call the national Poison Control Centers at 800-222-1222. (You can save this number in your cell phone.) Most calls to poison centers can be managed over the phone, avoiding costly trips to the emergency room and delayed treatment.
Do not induce vomiting (by using syrup of ipecac, for instance) unless you are instructed to do so. If the substance swallowed is caustic (such as drain cleaner, bleach, or detergent), vomiting can further damage the esophagus and throat. If it is a petroleum product (kerosene, gasoline, furniture polish, or paint thinner), vomiting can make the person inhale the substances and cause a serious lung problem. And you should never induce vomiting if the person is unconscious or has convulsions, or if you don't know what was swallowed.