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First Aid for Poisoning

Last updated Feb. 24, 2018

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD, MPH

Poisoning occurs when you are exposed to a harmful substance that can cause a wide spectrum of damage to the health. It may even lead to death.


All cases of Poisoning should be evaluated by a trained medical professional, as soon as possible! DO NOT wait! Failure to obtain evaluation as soon as possible may result in serious injury or death. Call 911 (or your local emergency number) immediately, if you suspect Poisoning.

What is Poisoning?

Poisoning occurs when you are exposed to a harmful substance that can cause a wide spectrum of damage to the health. It may even lead to death.

What are the Causes of Poisoning?

Most common causes of Poisoning include (but is not limited to):

  • Exposure to chemicals like detergents, household cleaning materials, gasoline, paint materials, insecticides, cyanide, etc.
  • Taking prescription medications or over-the-counter medications in excessive amounts
  • Certain foods (like mushroom), or improperly handled food can cause food-poisoning
  • Contaminated water
  • Lead poisoning
  • Contact with poisonous plants
  • Overdose of illegal, recreational drugs
  • Exposure to smoke/carbon monoxide
  • Exposure to animal bites, including venomous snakes, scorpions

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Poisoning?

Signs and symptoms vary according to the type of poison the individual is exposed to. Most common symptoms include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Visual disturbances, pupillary changes (constricted v/s enlarged pupils)
  • Skin rashes
  • Drooling
  • Red or purple discoloration over the mouth or lips
  • Smell of chemicals in breath
  • Confusion, dizziness
  • Chest pain, difficulty breathing, seizures
  • Diarrhea
  • Numbness
  • Fever
  • Pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased heart rate/breathing rate, unconsciousness

How is First Aid administered for Poisoning?

If you suspect Poisoning, call National Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222 and provide as much information as you can; even if the person does not have any symptoms.

Call 911 if the person is:

  • Unconscious
  • Having chest pain or breathing difficulties
  • Suffering from drowsiness, seizures, vomiting, or has eye injuries
  • Or if you are unable to obtain information

Until medical help arrives:

  • Remove any poison from the mouth of the person, if he/she has swallowed the poison
  • If poisoning is due to carbon monoxide exposure, move person away from the source; get fresh air right away
  • Try to identify the poison, read and follow instructions as mentioned in the container; and call National Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222
  • If poison is spilled on clothing, remove the clothing and wash the skin thoroughly with water
  • If the individual is not breathing or not showing any signs of movement, immediately start CPR (Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation)
  • DO NOT induce vomiting (by using ipecac syrup)
  • If the individual vomits, turn them on one side to prevent from choking
  • Try to locate the poison (or pill) container and take it to the hospital
  • DO NOT give anything orally to the person
  • Unless directed by the physician, DO NOT give any medication

Who should administer First Aid for Poisoning?

The person himself/herself or someone nearby may begin to administer First Aid. Call 911 immediately as mentioned before.

What is the Prognosis of Poisoning?

The prognosis is dependent on the potency of the toxin, the severity of reaction, and timely manner in which treatment is administered.

How can Poisoning be Prevented?

A few helpful tips to prevent inadvertent Poisoning:

  • Keep poisonous/hazardous chemicals, medicines, and other materials out of children’s reach
  • DO NOT keep any poisonous plants at home
  • Wear appropriate protective wear when working with chemicals/plants, during hiking/trekking, etc.
  • Periodically check and ensure smoke detectors at home are functionally fit

What are certain Crucial Steps to be followed?

  • Call National Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222  for help
  • Calling 911 appropriately
  • Remove the victim immediately from the source of poison
  • Identify the poison, as far as possible

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: May 27, 2013
Last updated: Feb. 24, 2018