How to Treat Poisoning

If you suspect that a child or adult has taken a poison, immediate treatment may avert serious consequences. The sooner emergency first aid measures are taken the better.

Ideally, set to work and apply simple first aid measures yourself as a matter of urgency. If there is a helper on hand, try to get further assistance. Ask your assistant to gain more information on specific treatment from the nearest Poisons Information Centre. These are available in each state capital and can quickly give first-class advice. State the poison involved and, if possible, the approximate dose taken by the victim, and their age.

After first aid measures have been taken, transport the victim to the nearest emergency ward of a large public hospital, if this is recommended by the Poisons Information Centre. All major hospitals are geared for poisonings. Take with you the container from which the poison was taken.

Treatment of poisoning will depend on the nature of the poison ingested. If possible, try to discover what product the patient took internally. Your next step will depend on this. The most likely poisons come under three headings.

Swallowed Corrosive Substances

These tend to burn the skin and lining of the lips, mouth, tongue and digestive tract. They include acids and alkalis. Examples include some strong disinfectants, battery acid, oven cleaners and toilet cleaners. One of the most common and dangerous is detergent used in dishwashing machines, which is different from the mild kinds of detergent used in ordinary sink washing up. It is possibly corrosive.

Do not induce vomiting, for this will aggravate the situation. Give milk or water in small quantities at a time, but no more than half a cupful for a child or a cupful for an adult. Get medical help as a matter of urgency.

Swallowed Petroleum-Based Products

These include products such as kerosene, turpentine, petrol, diesel fuel, paint thinners, furniture polish, some fly sprays, dry-cleaning fluids and lighter fluids.

If ingested, do not induce vomiting, for this increases risks of the material being inhaled into the lungs and causing serious respiratory disorders. Give nothing to drink, and get advice from the Poisons Information Centre.

Swallowed Medicines or Other Poisons

There are large numbers of other potential poisons, and they cover a wide range, including overdose of doctor-prescribed medicine, of eucalyptus oil, contaminated food, poisonous mushrooms etc.

Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal has the capacity to absorb certain drugs and toxins and render them less harmful. It would be given at a doctor’s surgery or in a hospital’s emergency department.

Swallowed Unknown Poison

If there is no knowledge as to the nature of the poison ingested, vomiting should not be induced, so seek medical advice as a matter of urgency.

Dishwashing Detergents

One of the more common recent poisonings is from detergents for household dishwashing machines, which are now present in large numbers of homes. These are often readily accessible to small children, and are stored (often carelessly) in kitchen cupboards. This type of detergent (in contrast to ordinary sink washing-up detergents, which are very mild) is extremely powerful, and an alkaline corrosive. It must be treated promptly. Most of these poisonings are in children and in most cases the liquid or powder is swallowed, although there are also injuries to the skin and eyes. It should be stored in a secure place (locked or child-resistant cupboard).

Once more it is stressed that the very best action one can take is to phone the Poisons Information Centre nearest you for instant advice as it applies to your particular case. If possible, do this even before you commence emergency measures, for the advice offered may be more specific for the situation you face. The lines are open 24 hours a day, and are manned by people expert in poisoning emergencies. If your nearest number is unavailable (say at 2am), the call will be diverted to a 24-hour service.