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?
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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.