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Swallowing a Poisonous Substance


Because small children like to put things in their mouths, about 80% of poisonings occur in children ages 1 to 4. Always believe a child who says that something poisonous has been swallowed, no matter how unappetizing the substance may seem. It is better to take action, even if it turns out to be a false alarm.

If you believe something poisonous has been swallowed, call your local poison control center or the National Poison Control Hotline (1-800-222-1222) immediately for advice. Have the poison container or plant specimen with you when you make the call. Do not use syrup of ipecac. It is no longer used to treat poisonings. Some swallowed poisons will cause more damage if you try to cause vomiting.

If you have syrup of ipecac in your home, call your pharmacist for instructions on how to dispose of it and throw away the container. Do not store anything else in the container.

Develop prevention habits to help prevent poisonings in your home.

  • Never leave a poisonous product unattended, even for a moment. Many poisonings occur when an adult who is using a poisonous product becomes distracted by the doorbell, a telephone, or some other interruption.
  • Use childproof latches on your cupboards.
  • Keep products in their original containers. Never store poisonous products in food containers.
  • Never leave alcohol within sight or reach of a child.
  • Read product labels for caution statements, how to use the product correctly, and first aid instructions.
  • Keep the number of your local poison control center or the National Poison Control Hotline (1-800-222-1222) near your phone.
  • Talk with your doctor about including activated charcoal as part of your first aid supplies at home.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer David Messenger, MD
Last Revised July 11, 2011

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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