A poison is any substance which causes injury, illness, or death. It can be inhaled, absorbed through the skin, ingested, or injected. Poisoning is one of the top causes of accidental death in North America with most incidents happening in the home.
These poisons are swallowed or come in contact with the mouth and lips. They include many items found in the home such as medications, cleaning products, pesticides, and plants. Many substances not poisonous in small amounts are poisonous in larger amounts.
These types of poisons are breathed into the lungs. These include gases and fumes such as carbon monoxide from a car exhaust or faulty furnace or heater; nitrous oxide, chlorine gas found in commercial swimming facilities; and fumes from household and industrial products, such as glues, paints, and cleaning solvents.
Absorbed (Dermal) Poisons
These poisons enter the body through the skin. They include plants such as poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac and fat-soluble chemicals such as solvents, paint strippers, and insecticides.
These poisons enter the body through bites or stings of bees, wasps, insects, spiders, ticks, animals, and snakes, or as drugs injected with a needle.
First Aid for All Poisoning Emergencies
- Call your emergency medical system if the person is having trouble breathing, is unconscious, convulsing, or anything else which you think may be serious.
- If you believe that the poisoning is not serious you should still follow the instructions on the container and/or call the poison control centre in your area.
- Stay with the person and monitor their condition while waiting for the paramedics.
- For inhaled poisons move the person to fresh air immediately as long as it is safe to do so.
- For absorbed poisons use lots of running water to flush the area. If it is a powder chemical first brush it off with a cloth.
- For ingested poisons do not automatically induce vomiting as this may cause burning of the airway if it is a corrosive substance. Do not automatically give fluids to drink as some substances may react more. Call the poison control centre.
- For injected (e.g. needle, insects) poisons remove the object if you can do so without causing further harm.
Tips for Poison Prevention
- Keep all household chemicals in locked cabinets.
- Keep all products in their original containers.
- Read labels before using a product and follow the directions carefully.
- Never mix household cleaning products together. You may create toxic fumes.
- Keep medications out of sight of young children, including vitamins.
- Throw away leftover or expired medications.
- While working with chemicals, ensure that the containers are sealed before answering the phone or door.
- Save the container and bring it to the hospital if someone is poisoned.
- Keep all emergency numbers including that of the poison control centre near every phone.