Poisons are substances that if inhaled, ingested, absorbed or injected, harm the structures or functions of the body. Some types of poisons may act immediately on the body, others may act more slowly. Some poisons, such as cyanide, are so toxic they only require a tiny amount to be harmful, while others, such as garden sprays, are cumulative and require exposure over a long period to achieve the same level of toxicity. Some may be carcinogenic, and cause fatal cancers some years after exposure.
Whatever the substance, remember that Prevention Is Better Than Cure!
How to prevent poisoning
- Store medicines, chemicals and household products safely out of reach and out of sight of children, up high (at least 1.5m) in a locked or child resistant cupboard.
- DO NOT take other people's medicines.
- Separate medicines from household products.
- Use medicines and chemicals safely. Be sure that all products are properly labelled and in their original containers.
- Clean out your medicine cupboard periodically. Take out-of-date medicines to a pharmacy for disposal.
- Children tend to mimic adults, so avoid taking medicines in their presence.
- Refer to medicines by their correct names. They are not sweets or lollies.
- Use personal protective equipment (PPE) when spraying or painting. Ensure there is adequate ventilation, with circulating air.
- Take off any contaminated clothing immediately.
- Keep everything in original containers, never in cups or soft drink bottles, since the original containers will be labelled with the appropriate warnings. Using a different container may give a child the mistaken impression that the product is both safe and drinkable.
If poisoning occurs, obtain a history, look for empty bottles, containers, and sometimes suicide notes. If possible, ascertain what poison or medicine has been taken, including how much and when.
The wide varieties of poisonous substances present with a similarly wide variety of signs and symptoms. The list below is not exhaustive and casualties may present with all, or some of these signs and symptoms.
May include the following:
- pale, cool, clammy skin
- rapid, weak (sometimes erratic) pulse
- nausea and/or vomiting
- bluish skin colour
- burns around the mouth
- burning pain in the mouth or throat
- blurred vision
- ringing in the ears
- smell of fumes or odours
- stomach pains or cramps
- drowsiness, which may lead to unconsciousness
- breathing difficulties
- If the casualty has collapsed ring call ‘000' for an ambulance
- ring the Poisons Information Centre for advice on 13 11 26
- rescue breaths and CPR as required
- monitor the casualty at all times
- DO NOT use Syrup of Ipecac (Ipecacuanha Syrup) in the first aid treatment for poisoning unless so advised by the Poisons Information Centre
- the first aid advice on the product labels are often outdated. Call the Poisons Information Centre
- pick up the container and take it to the telephone if safe to do so
- DO NOT try to make the patient vomit
Poison on the Skin
- remove contaminated clothing, taking care to avoid contact with the chemical
- flood the skin with cool running water for 15-20 minutes
- wash gently with soap and water and rinse well
Poison in the Eye
- holding the eyelids open, flood the eye with water from a cup, jug or slowly running tap water for 10-20 minutes
- get the person to fresh air as quickly as possible if safe to do so.
- if safe, open doors and windows
- DO NOT place yourself at risk
When to call the poisons information centre
You can call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26:
- If you or someone in your care may have been poisoned
- DO NOT wait for any symptoms to occur before calling 13 11 26
- If in doubt call and check
- Poisons may include:
- car products
- cleaning products
- insecticides, weed killers, rodent and snail baits
- kerosene, petrol, methylated spirits, etc.
- any over-the-counter medicines
- paints and thinners
- perfumes and aftershaves
- plants and mushrooms
- prescription medicines
- and many more, so always check
- If a person is bitten or stung by a marine creature, animal, reptile, spider or insect
- If you have any questions or concerns about:
- prevention of poisoning
- hazards associated with drugs, medicines, chemicals, plants, pesticides and any other products