Symptoms and Signs of Poisoning

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 11/19/2021

Doctor's Notes on Poisoning

Poisoning is the condition in which the body is affected by any type of poison. Poisons are substances that are harmful to the body. There are many different kinds of poison. Some substances are harmless in normal amounts but may be poisonous at high levels. Types of poisons include metals such as mercury or lead, pesticides, certain plants, medications taken at doses that are too high, alcohol, illegal drugs, carbon monoxide, household cleaners, and other chemicals and substances found in industrial settings.

The symptoms of poisoning depend on the specific poison. Therefore, signs and symptoms of poisoning in general are quite varied. Examples include:

  • difficulty breathing, 
  • nausea
  • vomiting,
  • drowsiness or confusion,
  • agitation, and
  • a chemical smell on the breath.

Other associated signs and symptoms may include:

  • seizures,
  • a bluish discoloration of the skin,
  • slow or irregular breathing, and
  • unconsciousness.

What Is the Treatment for Poisoning?

Treatment for poisoning depends upon the specific poison. Some, but not all, types of poisons have antidotes that reverse the effects of the poison. You should never give syrup of ipecac to induce vomiting, as this is no longer recommended. Activated charcoal is another chemical sometimes used to treat poisoning, but this should not be used at home. For all types of poisoning, management of symptoms and preservation of essential body functions is the goal.

It is critical to access immediate medical care by calling an ambulance or U.S. National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 for guidance.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.