• Poison Exposure

    What things are poisons?

    A poison is any substance that causes injury, illness or death if it enters the body. Poisons can be swallowed, inhaled, absorbed by the skin or eyes or injected (via a sting or bite). Anything can be a poison if it is not meant to be taken into the body. Even some substances that are meant to be taken into the body, such as medications, can be poisonous if they are taken by the wrong person, or if the person takes too much. Combining certain substances can also result in poisoning.

    How can I prevent poisoning?

    • Closely supervise children and confused older adults, especially in areas where potential poisons are commonly stored.
    • Securely store cleaning, laundry and car maintenance supplies, pesticides and other household chemicals in locked cabinets.
    • Keep medicines in original containers with original labels in locked storage.
    • Remember purses/bags may contain hazards such as medications or hand sanitizer.
    • Use poison symbols to identify potentially poisonous substances and teach children what the symbols mean.
    • Never call a medicine “candy” to get a child to take it, even if the medicine has a pleasant candy-like flavor.
    • Securely close all packages containing potential poisons after each use; promptly return container to a locked cabinet.
    • Use child-resistant safety caps on potentially dangerous products, but use caution, as there is no such thing as “childproof.”
    • Dispose of medications and other potentially poisonous substances properly.

    Emergency Steps


    Check the scene safety, form an initial impression, obtain consent and put on PPE, as appropriate.


    Check for signs and symptoms.

    • Headache or dizziness*
    • Weakness*
    • Trouble breathing*
    • Fast or slow heart rate*
    • Abnormal skin color*
    • Multiple people affected*
    • Strange breath odor*
    • Open or spilled container or unusual odor*
    • Burns around mouth*
    • Hypothermia*
    • Changes in level of responsiveness*
    • Unresponsiveness*
    • Seizures*
    • Abdominal pain
    • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
    • Sweating

    *Note: Signs and symptoms with a * require immediate emergency medical treatment.


    Call 9-1-1 and get equipment if the person requires immediate emergency medical treatment.


    Give Care.

    General Care

    1. Remove person from the source of the poison, if possible, without endangering yourself.
    2. If person unresponsive and not breathing (cardiac arrest), immediately begin CPR or compression-only CPR based on level of training and use an AED when available.
    3. If person is unresponsive or not fully awake but breathing, place them in the recovery position.
    4. Call the National Poison Help Hotline: 1-800-222-1222 if they are alert and responsive; give care as advised.
    5. Continue checking them as appropriate to determine if additional care is needed.
      1. Try to find out the type of poison, quantity taken, when it was taken and how much the person weighs.
    6. Do not give the person anything to eat or drink unless advised to do so.
    7. If the person vomits and the poison is not known, save a sample for analysis.
    8. Position the person as appropriate.
    9. Reassure them you will help and that EMS has been called (if appropriate).
    10. Watch for changes in condition, including breathing and responsiveness, and give care as appropriate and trained.

    Giving Care: Alcohol Poisoning

    1. Place them in the recovery position.
    2. Take steps to keep the airway clear as needed while awaiting EMS.
    3. Watch for changes in condition, including breathing and responsiveness, and give care as appropriate and trained.

    Giving Care: Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

    1. Remove the person from the area if it is safe to do so.
    2. Get the person into the fresh air as soon as possible while awaiting EMS.
    3. Watch for changes in condition, including breathing and responsiveness, and give care as appropriate and trained.

    Poison Exposure FAQs

    What is the Poison Control Center?

    In the United States, there are 55 regional poison control centers. Calling the National Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) will put you in touch with the poison control center in your area. The phone number works from anywhere in the United States and is toll-free. These centers are staffed by medical professionals with access to information about most types of poisonings. They can tell you what care to give. Staff members are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

    What clues might help tell that a person has been poisoned?

    Checking the person will often give clues that point to poisoning as the cause of their illness. Some clues may include an open or spilled container nearby, an unusual odor, burns around the mouth, a strange breath odor or other people in the area who are also ill.

    Who is at risk for a poison exposure?

    Poisoning can happen anywhere, but most poisonings take place in the home. Children younger than 5 years, especially toddlers, are most at risk. Older adults with medical conditions that cause confusion (e.g., dementia) or who have impaired vision are also at high risk.

    Why shouldn't I make the person who may have been poisoned vomit?

    Inducing vomiting often causes additional harm and is not recommended. Sometimes the person may vomit on their own, but never give the person anything to make them vomit unless specifically instructed to do so by the poison center staff member.

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