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Definition Return to top
Poisoning is caused by swallowing, injecting, breathing in, or otherwise being exposed to a harmful substance. Most poisonings occur by accident.
Immediate first aid is very important in a poisoning emergency. The first aid you give before getting medical help can save a person's life.
Considerations Return to top
Approximately 2.5 million poisonings are reported to United States poison control centers every year, with nearly 1,000 reported deaths.
It is important to note that just because a package does not have a warning label doesn't mean it is safe. You should consider poisoning if someone suddenly becomes sick for no apparent reason, or if the person is found near a furnace, car, fire, or in an area that is not well ventilated.
Symptoms of poisoning may take time to develop. However, if you think someone has been poisoned, do not wait for symptoms to develop before getting that person medical help.
Causes Return to top
Items that can cause poisoning include:
Symptoms Return to top
Symptoms vary according to the poison, but may include:
First Aid Return to top
Seek immediate medical help.
For poisoning by swallowing:
For inhalation poisoning:
DO NOT Return to top
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
The National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) can be called from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.
This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Take the container with you to the hospital, if possible.
See: Poison control center - emergency number
Prevention Return to top
Be aware of poisons in and around your home. Take steps to protect young children from toxic substances. Store all medicines, cleaners, cosmetics, and household chemicals out of reach of children, or in cabinets with childproof latches.
Be familiar with plants in your home, yard, and vicinity. Keep your children informed, too. Remove any poisonous plants. Never eat wild plants, mushrooms, roots, or berries unless you very familiar with them.
Teach children about the dangers of substances that contain poison. Label all poisons.
Don't store household chemicals in food containers, even if they are labeled. Most nonfood substances are poisonous if taken in large doses.
If you are concerned that industrial poisons might be polluting nearby land or water, report your concerns to the local health department or the state or federal Environmental Protection Agency.
References Return to top
Hack JB, Hoffman RS. General management of poisoned patients. In: Tintinalli JE, Kelen GD, Stapczynski JS, Ma OJ, Cline DM, eds. Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 6th ed. Columbus, OH: McGraw-Hill; 2006:chap 156.Update Date: 1/8/2009 Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington, Clinic. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.