What Should You Do if You Suspect a Poisoning?

If you suspect a poisoning, you need to act quickly. When you know the source of the toxic exposure, use the guidelines below to plan your response.

Poisonous Fumes or Gases

  • Immediately carry or drag the person to fresh air. 

  • Minimize your exposure to the fumes. 

  • If the person is not breathing, start artificial respiration immediately and continue it until the victim is breathing or help arrives. 

  • Call 911 or send someone for help as quickly as possible. 

Poisons on the Skin

  • Brush off all dry poisons and flood involved parts with large amounts of plain water.

  • Then wash the skin with bar soap and water and rinse. 

  • Remove and discard all affected clothing. 

  • Call 1-800-222-1222 to consult your poison control center. If you suspect a life- or limb-threatening illness, call 911 for emergency medical treatment.

Poisons in the Eye

  • Hold eyelid open and drip room temperature water or normal saline over the bridge of the nose for a full 15 minutes. 

  • If the victim is a small child, you should wrap the child in a towel like a papoose (arms placed at sides under towel) and place the child on a flat surface or in a chair so you can control the child safely.

  • Do not try to hold a child under the faucet or in the shower or tub. You should not use water under pressure. Do not allow the victim to rub his/her eyes. Do not use medicated drops, such as Visine.

  • If you suspect a life- or limb-threatening illness, call 911 for emergency medical treatment. Information is also available from poison control at 1-800-222-1222. 

Swallowed Poisons/Medications

  • Look into the victim's mouth and remove all tablets, powder or any material that is present. 

  • Examine the mouth for cuts, burns, swelling, unusual coloring or odor. 

  • Rinse and wipe out the mouth with a cloth. 

  • Call 911.

  • Follow the advice from the 911 personnel.

If you don’t know what poison may be involved, use the list below to help when you call 911.

  • Be aware that some product labels have outdated or incorrect information for how to treat poisonings. Home remedies don't work either and may even be harmful. 

  • Look for signs to identify the poison: spills, odors, stains, changes in behavior, empty containers. 

  • Bring the bottle or container to the phone with you. Look in the victim’s mouth for tablets, powder, discoloration, cuts, burns or odors. 

  • Rinse out and wipe a child's mouth. Keep the poisoned child within sight. You will be asked some questions about how the child looks or how he/she is acting. 

What to tell 911 personnel

Gather the essential information before you call 911 so you are ready to answer questions about the following information.

  • Substance and label information. 

  • Victim's age and weight. 

  • Existing health conditions or problems. 

  • First aid already given. 

  • Whether or not the person has vomited. 

  • Your location and distance to the nearest hospital. 

  • How the substance entered the body (inhalation, swallowing, absorbed through the skin, etc.).

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