Poisons are substances that interfere with the normal functioning of the body. With some substances, a minute dose can be fatal; other substances, such as certain medications or dietary supplements, are nontoxic in small amounts, but dangerous when taken in large doses. Many common household items can be toxic. These include insecticides, mothballs, paint, pesticides, laundry detergent pods, fuels, polishes, soaps, and solvents. Hundreds of plants and some mushrooms are also poisonous.
The key to dealing with possible poisoning is to call your regional poison control center. Poison control centers exist in every state, and highly trained poison information specialists staffing the hotline (24 hours a day, every day) can give immediate instructions on how to proceed in the event of poisoning. The hotline staff can also answer questions about the toxicity of specific products and plants. In most cases, after determining the exact product the victim was exposed to and the amount involved, the poison control center expert will be able to reassure the caller that no harm is expected and a trip to the emergency department is not needed. However, in a few cases the person will need urgent transport to a hospital.
Immediate care for poisoning
If you or someone in your household or workplace has been exposed to a poisonous substance, call your regional poison control center at 1-800-222-1222—unless the person is unconscious or having convulsions; in that case, call 911 or your local emergency number.
Be ready to provide the following information: the age and weight of the person, what was ingested, inhaled, or splashed in the eyes or on the skin (have the bottle or container with you), when the exposure occurred, how much was taken, how the victim is feeling or acting at that moment, and your name and phone number.
If you are instructed to go to a hospital emergency room, bring the container of the poison or a sample of the substance with you.
Do not induce vomiting (by using syrup of ipecac, for instance) unless you are instructed to do so. Some corrosive chemicals, such as bleach, and petroleum products, such as gasoline, can cause more harm if they are brought up.
For more information: American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC).
Reviewed by Kent Olson, MD.
Also see Bruises: What to Do.