Updated 22 January 2015

Swallowed poisons: first aid

All parents share this fear: that their child may accidentally swallow a poisonous substance. Take the right steps now and avoid a tragedy later.


All parents share this fear: that their child may accidentally swallow a poisonous substance. Take the right steps now and avoid a tragedy later.

Commonly swallowed, or ingested, poisons include medication, pesticides, 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.

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- Dispose of outdated medications.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.

- Ask visitors to keep their medication or other poisonous substances well out of reach of children.

- Avoid using pesticides and poisons, especially if you have kids or pets; rather keep pest populations down with common sense and natural methods. Practise good housekeeping, e.g. keep surfaces clean and pack food away to deter insects and rodents.




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