First aid for poisoning


What you should know:

  • Poison may be swallowed, inhaled, absorbed through the mucus membranes or skin, or injected.
  • Swallowed poisons may cause nausea and vomitting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhoea. 
  • Inhaled poisons may cause irritated mucus 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 around the entry point.
  • If there are signs of poisoning, get help immediately. 

Poisoning can be divided into four types:

  • Swallowed poisons.
  • Inhaled poisons.
  • Absorbed poisons (through the skin or mucus membranes).
  • Injected poisons. 

Swallowed poisons
Common swallowed poisons are medication, paraffin, cleaning agents, and poisonous plants.

Swallowed poisons may cause nausea and vomitting, abdominal cramps, diarrhoea, difficulty breathing, coughing up of blood, lethargy, and convulsions. There may also be burn marks in or around the mouth.

First aid for swallowed poisons

  • Call emergency services if the person shows signs of poisoning or is unconscious. Provide information about the poisoning: the poison that was taken, the amount, how it entered the body, and when it was taken. Give the person's age and approximate size or 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's an empty container.
  • Never try to induce vomitting as this could cause further damage. 
  • Don't give the person anything to eat or drink.

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

Inhaled poisons may cause irritated eyes, nose, throat, or lungs. Other symptoms include coughing, headache, shortness of breath, and dizziness.

First aid for inhaled poisons

  • Call an ambulance if there are signs of poisoning or if the person is unconscious. 
  • Perform CPR if the person is unconscious and not breathing.

Absorbed poisons
Common absorbed poisons are pesticides and poisonous plants.

Absorbed poisons may cause reddening of the skin, blisters, swelling, and burns.

First aid for absorbed poisons

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

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

Injected poisons can cause 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 there are signs of poisoning, the person has been bitten by a snake, or if the person is unconscious. 
  • 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.

Prevent poisoning

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

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