What to do if someone is poisoned

March 21, 2016 | by Jonathan Gibson, M.D.

It’s a parenting nightmare. You walk into a room at the moment your child swallows a mouthful of something like household cleaner, or places a button battery in his or her mouth.

Accidental poisoning can happen quickly, especially with kids.

Poisoning is the leading cause of injury death in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

The National Poison Prevention Council reports poison control centers around the country take more than 2 million reports of poisonings each year. Most of the poisonings happen at home, and most of the non-fatal poisonings occur in children younger than 6.

How do you know if someone has been poisoned?

The Mayo Clinic offers a list of poisoning symptoms on its website, including:

Burns or redness around the mouth and lips

Breath that smells like chemicals, like gasoline or paint thinner


Difficulty breathing


Confusion or another altered mental state

If the person you suspect has been poisoned is unconscious or not breathing, call 911 immediately and get the person away from the poison and its fumes, if any.

What should you do if you think someone has been poisoned?

If the person is conscious and breathing, call the poison center at 800-222-1222. It’s staffed around the clock, 365 days a year. Call even if you’re not sure the person has actually been poisoned. Keep the poisonous substance or the container it was in with you and bring it to the emergency room if you’re instructed to go there.

Don’t give the poisoned person anything to make them throw up or anything to eat or drink unless you’re told to do so by the poison center operator.

If you have a child who has swallowed a button battery, take the child to an emergency room immediately for an X-ray.

The Illinois Poison Control Center provides many great online resources, including this list of potentially hazardous substances your child may ingest (and what to do if so).

Let’s spread the word about household safety! Please share this blog post on social media with the buttons at the top and bottom of this page and with your friends, especially those who have little kids at home.

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