In every issue of WebMD the Magazine, we ask our experts to answer readers' questions about a wide range of topics. In our June 2012 issue, we asked WebMD's child care expert, Roy Benaroch, MD, if parents should still keep ipecac in case their child swallows a poison.
Q: I was always told to keep ipecac in the medicine cabinet. Now I hear I shouldn't. What changed?
A few years ago, teenager Amy Johnson of Kansas City, Mo., was at a pet show with her family. When Amy, who has type 1 diabetes, began to feel sick, she checked her blood sugar. It was too high, so she used both her insulin pump and an insulin injection to try to correct it, both to no avail. After going to the emergency room, she ended up in the pediatric intensive care unit. She recovered -- but the episode rattled her family.
This fall, with 18-year-old Amy in her first year of college, her father,...
A: For decades, parents were advised to keep a bottle of ipecac on hand, just in case a child ingested something poisonous. Ipecac is a medication that will cause vomiting within 20 to 30 minutes, so the idea was that you could get your child to vomit up whatever he swallowed.
But you can and should toss your bottle, because doctors now know it's not wise to use in many cases. In the time it takes for ipecac to take effect, the poison can move out of the stomach and be absorbed in the bloodstream. And some kinds of poison (such as bleach or pool chemicals) may cause as much damage when they're vomited as when they're swallowed.
Most important, drinking ipecac may prevent E.R. physicians from using truly effective treatments, such as activated charcoal or medical antidotes, because the child may throw them up. In the case of suspected poisoning, write down who ingested what, when, and how much, and immediately call your local poison control center or the American Association of Poison Control Centers.