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Poisoning

Poisoning Overview

If you or someone you know has swallowed or breathed in a poison, and you or they have serious signs or symptoms (nausea, vomiting, pain, trouble breathing, seizure, confusion, or abnormal skin color), you must either call an ambulance for transport to a hospital emergency department or call a poison control center for guidance. The National Poison Control Center phone number in the U.S. is 1-800-222-1222.

If the person has no symptoms but has taken a potentially dangerous poison, you should also call a poison control center or go to the nearest emergency department for an evaluation.

Poison is anything that kills or injures through its chemical actions. Most poisons are swallowed (ingested). The word poison comes from the Latin word - potare - meaning to drink. But poisons can also enter the body in other ways:

  • By breathing
  • Through the skin
  • By IV injection
  • From exposure to radiation
  • Venom from a snake bite or insect bite

Poisoning Causes

Patient Comments

Poisons include highly toxic chemicals not meant for human ingestion or contact, such as cyanide, paint thinners, or household cleaning products.

Many poisons, however, are substances meant for humans to eat, including foods and medicines.

Foods

  • Some mushrooms are poisonous
  • Drinking water contaminated by agricultural or industrial chemicals
  • Food that has not been properly prepared or handled

Drugs

Drugs that are helpful in therapeutic doses may be deadly when taken in excess.

Examples include:

  • Beta blockers: Beta blockers are a class of drugs used to treat heart conditions (for example, angina, abnormal heart rhythms) and other conditions, (for example, high blood pressure, migraine headache prevention, social phobia, and certain types of tremors). In excess, they can cause difficulty breathing, coma, and heart failure.
  • Warfarin (Coumadin): Coumadin is a blood thinner used to prevent blood clots. It is the active ingredient in many rat poisons and may cause heavy bleeding and death if too much is taken.
  • Vitamins: Vitamins, especially A and D, if taken in large amounts can cause liver problems and death.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/19/2013

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