A poison is a substance that has toxic
effects and may injure you or make you sick if you are exposed to it. Poisons
can be found everywhere, from simple household cleaners to cosmetics to
houseplants to industrial chemicals. Even medicines that are taken in the wrong
dose, at the wrong time, or by the wrong person can cause a toxic effect.
Poisonous substances can hurt you if they are swallowed, inhaled, spilled on
your skin, or splashed in your eyes. In most cases, any product that gives off
fumes or is an aerosol that can be inhaled should be considered a possible
poison. More than 90% of poisonings occur in the home.
children have the highest risk of poisoning because of their natural curiosity.
More than half of poisonings in children occur in those who are younger than
age 6. Some children will swallow just about anything, including unappetizing
substances that are poisonous. When in doubt, assume the worst. Always believe
a child or a witness, such as another child or a brother or sister, who reports
that poison has been swallowed. Many poisonings occur when an adult who is
using a poisonous product around children becomes distracted by the doorbell, a
telephone, or some other interruption.
Teenagers also have an
increased risk of poisonings, both accidental and intentional, because of their
risk-taking behavior. Some teens experiment with poisonous substances such as
by sniffing toxic glues or inhaling aerosol substances to get "high." About
half of all poisonings in teens are classified as
suicide attempts, which always requires medical
Adults—especially older adults—are at risk for
accidental and intentional poisonings from:
- Alcohol and illegal drugs. For more information,
see the topic
Alcohol and Drug Problems.
- Gas leaks, such
as exhaust leaks from heaters and stoves and automobile exhaust. For more
information, see the topic
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning.
- Medicines, such
as acetaminophen, antibiotics, cough and cold remedies, vitamins, pain
relievers, sleeping pills, and tranquilizers.
- Household cleaning
supplies and other substances, such as cosmetics, antifreeze, windshield
cleaner, gardening products, and paint thinners.
If a poisoning was intentional, call your local suicide hotline or the national suicide hotline 1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-273-8255 for help.
The symptoms of a suspected
poisoning may vary depending on the person's age, the type of poisonous
substance, the amount of poison involved, and how much time has passed since
the poisoning occurred. Some common symptoms that might point to a poisoning
- Nausea and
- Sudden sleepiness, confusion, or
- Anxiousness, nervousness, irritability, or
- Substance residue or burn around the
mouth, teeth, eyes, or on the skin.
Poison control centers, hospitals, or your doctor can
give immediate advice in the case of a poisoning. The United States
National Poison Control Hotline phone number is
1-800-222-1222. Have the poison container with you so
you can give complete information to the poison control center, such as what
the poison or substance is, how much was taken and when. Do not try to make the person vomit. If your poison control center
recommends vomiting for a specific substance, follow their guidelines.