Being poisoned can be life threatening. If someone has swallowed a poisonous substance, do not try to treat them yourself. Get medical help immediately.
Call 999 for an ambulance, or take the person to your local Accident and Emergency department.
How to help the person
If you think someone has swallowed poison and they appear to be unconscious, try to wake them and encourage them to spit out any pills. Do not put your hand into their mouth and do not try to make them sick.
While waiting for medical help to arrive, lie the person on their side with a cushion behind their back and their upper leg pulled slightly forward, so they do not fall on their face or roll backwards.
Wipe any vomit away from their mouth and keep their head pointing down to allow any vomit to escape without them breathing it in or swallowing it.
Do not give them anything to eat or drink.
How to help medical staff
Medical staff will need to take a detailed history to be able to effectively treat a person who has been poisoned. When the paramedics arrive or when you arrive at A&E, give them as much information as you can, including:
- What substances you think the person may have swallowed.
- When the substance was taken (how long ago).
- How it was taken (for example, swallowed).
- How much was taken (if you know).
Give details of any symptoms that the person has had, such as whether they have been sick.
If they have been sick, collect a sample of their vomit as it may help medical staff to identify the poison.
Medical staff may also want to know:
- The person's age and estimated weight.
- Whether they have any existing medical conditions.
- Whether they are taking any medication (if you know).
If possible, give medical staff the container that the substance came in to give them a clear idea of what it is. If you do not know what caused the poisoning, blood tests may be needed to identify it.
Some people who have swallowed a poisonous substance or have overdosed on medication will be admitted to hospital for examination.
Investigations may include blood tests and an electrocardiogram.
- Blood tests check the levels of chemicals and glucose in your blood. They may be used to perform a toxicology screen (tests to determine how many drugs you have taken) and a liver function test (which indicates how damaged your liver is). Go to the Lab Tests Online website for more information on liver function tests.
- An electrocardiogram (ECG) is an electrical recording of the heart to check that it is functioning properly.
- Activated charcoal. Healthcare professionals sometimes use activated charcoal (charcoal that has been treated so that it is pure carbon) to treat someone who has been poisoned. The charcoal binds to the poison and stops it from being further absorbed into the blood.
- Antidotes. These are substances that either prevent the poison from working or reverse the effects of the poison.
- Sedatives. These may be given if the person is agitated.
- A ventilator (breathing machine). This may be used if the person stops breathing.
- Antiepileptic medicine. This may be used if the person has seizures.
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