John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Activated charcoal may be given by mouth to someone who is awake and alert. It is a black liquid drink.
If the person vomits the drink, another dose will be given through a
nasogastric or orogastric tube (a tube inserted through the nose or mouth,
down the esophagus and into the stomach).
If the person is unconscious (or nearly so), an endotracheal intubation (a procedure in which a tube is inserted through the mouth down into the trachea) may be necessary. This will allow
oxygen to be delivered and will help protect the airway and lungs from gastric content. This will minimize the risk of the person vomiting and choking.
Activated charcoal is usually given by a doctor. It is not a substance to be used at home. Doctors determine the dose or amount of charcoal to give based on the
patient's weight (with special doses for children) and on how much poison was swallowed. There are some doctors who will prescribe charcoal for emergency use in the home. This should only be done under the direct guidance of the doctor or poison control center.
In the United States, the direct line to the poison control center is
The doctor also determines when and if additional doses are given by monitoring blood levels of the poison. Other symptoms the doctor monitors are
nausea and vomiting,
abdominal pain, dizziness, and severe heart problems. Multiple doses of activated charcoal can be given if someone swallowed large doses of long-acting, sustained release medications.
If blood levels of the poison remain too high, the doctor may recommend kidney dialysis.
Dialysis is the best way to remove the toxin from the bloodstream.
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