LiveSmart: Poison Ingestion is an EMERGENCY

[This piece was written by Diane Tenenbaum, MD, of St. Peter’s Children’s Health Center.]

You turn away for just a minute, to answer the phone or move a load of laundry from the washer to the dryer. You return and find your young child apparently has swallowed some pills or household cleaner. What do you do?

If the child is not acting sick, your first call should be to your pediatrician or the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222. When you call, be prepared to give the facts, including any information and first-aid instructions from product labels. If you go to the emergency department, take the poison with you (e.g., chemical container, medication bottle, plant part).

However, immediately call 911 if there are serious symptoms such as:

  • Burns on the lips or mouth, or the child is complaining of throat pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Unexplained nausea and vomiting

A child also may appear drowsy or sluggish, and a foreign substance may remain around the mouth and teeth. You also may be able to smell something on the child’s breath.

Although caregivers were once advised to give the child syrup of ipecac to cause vomiting, that is no longer recommended. Not only does vomiting do little to help, regurgitating some substances can, in fact, cause more harm. Ipecac use may also make it difficult for the hospital emergency staff to employ the accepted treatment of activated charcoal.

If the child has taken a medication, give nothing by mouth unless advised by medical staff. If it involves chemicals or household products, call the Poison Control Center and read the first aid instructions on the label.

If the child is incapacitated from alcohol or you suspect drug abuse, call 911 or take him/her to the hospital emergency department.

Finally, a request of parents, guardians, grandparents, and caregivers: Take a moment, right now, and add 1-800-222-1222 as a contact in your smartphone. Having it readily available can save precious minutes in an emergency.

St. Peter’s Children’s Health Center (1092 Madison Avenue, Albany – 525-2445) offers a complete range of services for children from newborns to age 18. Services include well-child routine care, sick child exams, school and camp physicals, sports physicals, immunizations, health maintenance and education, and access to other hospital services and referrals to specialists.

For more information on preventing and treating accidental poisonings, visit

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