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Updated 25 July 2012

Poisoning

Poison may be swallowed, inhaled, absorbed through the mucous membranes or skin, or injected.

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Summary

  • Poison may be swallowed, inhaled, absorbed through the mucous membranes or skin, or injected.
  • Signs of swallowed poisons include nausea, abdominal cramps, diarrhoea and vomiting.
  • Inhaled poisons may cause irritated mucous membranes, coughing, headache, shortness of breath or dizziness.
  • Absorbed poisons may cause reddening of the skin, blisters, swelling or burns.
  • Injected poisons cause irritation or marks and the entry point.
  • Call emergency services if there are signs of poisoning or the person becomes unconscious.

Poisoning can be divided into four types:

  • swallowed poisons
  • inhaled poisons
  • absorbed poisons (through the skin or mucous membranes)
  • injected poisons

Swallowed poisons
Commonly swallowed poisons include medication, paraffin, poisonous plants and cleaning agents.

Symptoms and signs of swallowed poisons may include:
Nausea, abdominal cramps, diarrhoea, vomiting, difficulty breathing, coughing blood, may or may not turn blue, lethargy, convulsion. There may be burn marks in or around the mouth.

First aid for swallowed poisons

  • Call emergency services if the person is unconscious or there are signs of poisoning. Provide information about the poisoning: what poison was taken; the amount; how it entered the body; when it was taken; the person's age and approximate size/weight.
  • Perform CPR if the person is unconscious and not breathing, but first check for poisonous material around the mouth. Wash the area around the person's mouth and if necessary, use a barrier device.
  • Keep a sample of what the person has taken, even if it is an empty container.
  • Never try to induce vomiting as this could cause further damage. Some poisons, especially corrosive substances, can cause further damage during vomiting.
  • Do not give anything to eat or drink.

Inhaled poisons
Common sources are carbon monoxide and gas used for heating.

Symptoms and signs of inhaled poisons may include:
Irritated eyes, nose, throat or lungs. Coughing, headache, shortness of breath or dizziness.

First aid for inhaled poisons

  • Call an ambulance if the person is unconscious or there are signs of poisoning.
  • If the person is unconscious, call emergency services immediately.
  • Perform CPR if the person is unconscious and not breathing.

Absorbed poisons
Common sources include pesticides and poisonous plants.

Symptoms and signs of absorbed poisons may include:

Reddening of the skin, blisters, swelling or burns.

First aid for absorbed poisons

  • If the person is unconscious, call emergency services immediately.
  • Flush the affected area thoroughly with cool water.
  • Remove clothing that has been in contact with the poison - be careful not to touch it.
  • Wash the area carefully with soap and water.
  • If there is poison in the eye, rinse the eye with cool water for 20 minutes.
  • Keep a sample of the poisonous substance, even if it is an empty container.

Injected poisons
Poisons can be injected through a hollow needle or needle-like device such as a snake's fangs.

Symptoms and signs of injected poisons may include:

Irritation around the point of entry. Snake bites can be identified by marks on the skin.

First aid for injected poisons

  • Call emergency services if the person is unconscious, there are signs of poisoning or the person has been bitten by a snake.
  • Delay the spread of the poison to the rest of the body by letting the person lie down, keeping the affected limb below the heart.

Prevention of poisoning

  • Use child-resistant caps on all containers of poisonous substances and lock these away.
  • Remove all poisonous plants from your garden.
  • Don't remove products from their original packaging.
  • Dispose of outdated medications.
  • Avoid taking medication in front of children as they may imitate you.
  • Turn the light on when giving or taking medicine.
  • Turn on the fan and open windows when using chemical products.
  • Wear protective clothing (gloves, long pants, long sleeves, socks, shoes) when spraying pesticides and other chemicals.
  • Never mix household chemical products. A poisonous gas may be created when mixing chemicals.
  • Do not burn fuels or charcoal or use petrol-powered engines in confined spaces such as garages.
  • Check your house for lead-based paints.
  • Ask visitors to keep their medication or other poisonous substances well out of reach of children.

Last updated: July 2009

 
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