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,
- drowsiness or confusion,
- agitation, and
- a chemical smell on the breath.
Other associated signs and symptoms may include:
- a bluish discoloration of the skin,
- slow or irregular breathing, and
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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Activated CharcoalActivated charcoal is a substance used when a person has ingested a poison (drugs or chemicals). Activated charcoal absorbs the poisons in the GI tract. Activated charcoal is administered by a physician and is not recommended for home use. In the United States, the National Poison Control Center hot line is 1-800-222-1222. If someone has ingested poisonous levels of chemicals or drugs, contact the emergency medical response system in your area or take the patient to the nearest emergency department.
Alcohol IntoxicationAlcohol intoxication is defined as when the quantity of alcohol the person consumes produces behavioral or physical abnormalities. Alcohol is the generic term for ethanol. A person who is intoxicated with alcohol they may have euphoria, poor coordination and movement, poor judgment, memory loss, slurred speech, confusion, and even coma and death if the person consumed enough alcohol. Gender, coexisiting medical conditions, and medications may have an effect on the level of alcohol intoxication a person experiences.
Aspirin PoisoningAspirin poisoning is either accidental or intentional. Symptoms of aspirin poisoning include ringing in the ears, impaired hearing, rapid breathing, dehydration, vomiting, fever, and double vision. The treatment of aspirin poisoning is cared for in a hospital setting.
Battery Ingestion (Swallowed Battery)Battery ingestion commonly occurs in children 5 years of age and younger and the elderly. Symptoms and signs of battery ingestion include vomiting, gagging, abdominal pain, fever, rash, dark or bloody stools, irritability, drooling, and difficulty breathing. If an infant, toddler, child, or the elderly has swallowed a battery, call the National Button Battery Ingestion Hotline at (800) 498-8666 to be consulted for battery identification and emergency instructions. If instructed, take the person to the nearest emergency department for medical care. If you cannot find the battery that was ingested from the device, bring the device to the emergency department. Do not give the person antacids or ipecac.
Biological WarfareBiological weapons include any organism (such as bacteria, viruses, or fungi) or toxin found in nature that can be used to kill or injure people. Types of biological agents include anthrax, plague, cholera, tularemia, brucellosis, Q fever, smallpox, monkeypox, arboviral encephalitides, viral hemorrhagic fevers (like Marburg and Ebola virus), staphylococcoal enterotoxin B, ricin, botulinum toxin, mycotoxins, glanders, typhus, and anti-crop biological agents.
Carbon Monoxide PoisoningCarbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas produced by burning material containing carbon. Carbon monoxide kills nearly 400 people each year in the U.S. Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache, nausea, fatigue, and are often mistaken for the flu. If a person suspects they have been exposed to carbon monoxide poison, seek medical care emergently.
Chemical WarfareInjury from chemical weapon agents, known as CWAs, may result from: industrial accidents, military stockpiling, war, or a terrorist attack. If you think you've been exposed to a CWA, find emergency medical help immediately.
Cyanide PoisoningCyanide poisoning can occur with smoke inhalation from a fire, chemicals or products in the workplace, plants and foods (for example, apricot pits), certain chemicals that turn into cyanide after ingestion, and suicide attempts. Symptoms of cyanide poisoning include weakness, confusion, headache, seizures, vomiting, bizarre behavior, confusion, excessive sleepiness, abdominal pain, and coma. Cyanide poisoning cannot be treated at home. Medical treatment is required immediately for cyanide poisoning.
Iron Poisoning (Overdose) In ChildrenAcute iron poisoning usually occurs in children less than 6 years of age. Symptoms of iron poisoning in a child include severe vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and dehydration. If a person suspects a child has swallowed iron pills, they should take the child to an emergency department immediately.
Poison Proofing Your HomePoison proofing your home is one of the most important ways to protect your family and pets from an accidental poisoning from: solids (pills, plants, fertilizers), liquids (medicine, soap, household cleaners), insecticide sprays and paints, and gases such as carbon monoxide and paint stripper. Have the poison control center phone numbers and information readily available in case of an accidental poisoning. Information about when to seek medical care is also included in the information.
Smoke InhalationThe number one cause of death related to fires is smoke inhalation. An estimated 50%-80% of fire deaths are the result of smoke inhalation injuries rather than burns. Smoke inhalation can damage lungs through simple asphyxiation, chemical asphyxiation, and compounds that damage lung tissues.
Tylenol PoisoningAcetaminophen (Tylenol) poisoning or overdose, is caused primarily by damage to the liver. Symptoms of acetaminophen (Tylenol) poisoning include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, poor appetite, and not feel well. Treatment for acetaminophen (Tylenol) poisoning include gastric lavage, NAC, or activated charcoal.
Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.