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First Aid Guide: Dealing with a case of poisoning

Team AckoJan 27, 2023

There are several cases where someone accidentally consumes rat poison or drinks illicit liquor resulting in poisoning. Such incidents have the potential to be fatal! This is why it is very important to know how to identify cases of poisoning and learn how to deal with them. Read ahead for details regarding the same.

First Aid Guide: Dealing with a case of poisoning

Contents

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What is poison?

A poison is a harmful, toxic substance that causes significant injury to your body and organs if you are exposed to it. Many of the substances that are used in day-to-day life can be harmful when used in ways other than their recommended purpose.

This can happen accidentally, or sometimes deliberately. It is important to know how to use a product/substance/object so as to avoid accidents. It is also important to make sure to get clinical help as soon as possible if there is a suspected or established exposure.

Modes of exposure

There are many ways by which one can get exposed to a poison apart from orally consuming it. You can be exposed to poison through your skin, by breathing in toxic fumes, or by injecting the wrong substance into the veins. There are many substances that are used on a daily basis that can be poisonous. It is therefore important to make sure that these products are not consumed in a harmful way. 

Common poisons

Usually, only “toxic” or “chemical” substances are associated with the word poison. However, even some common household products or improperly stored food can be poisonous.

Here are some common poisons:

  • Detergents, soaps & cleaning products

  • Make-up products 

  • Pest killers & insecticides (rat poison, ant killer, mosquito liquid)

  • Common over-the-counter medications can be poisonous when ingested in doses higher than recommended (common drugs include paracetamol, aspirin, insulin overdose)

  • Carbon monoxide exposure may occur in households which use heating devices/ furnaces/gas-based engines in a closed space

  • Spoilt food/poorly prepared food

  • Paint & refurbishment products

  • Plants (some household plants are toxic when consumed, like peace lily, palms, snake plant, aloe vera)

  • Personal hygiene products like shampoos, shower gels, sanitizers, perfumes

  • Incense, potpourri, essential oils, room fresheners

  • Workplace exposure to chemicals 

Poisoning can be either accidental or a form of deliberate self-harm. The former is more common in children who have a tendency to ingest unknown objects. It is therefore important to make sure that such objects are kept well away from the reach of children. Storing these common household items in higher places, in storage that is locked is an important way to prevent children from accidentally ingesting poisonous substances.

Deliberate self-harm is a serious situation where the intervention of trained individuals at the earliest is better. In such situations, make sure to call emergency services or go to the hospital as soon as possible.

When to suspect poisoning?

The way a person reacts to a toxic substance differs, based on the type of the substance and mode of exposure. Not all poisons produce an immediate reaction. Some toxins produce harmful effects only on prolonged exposure. 

Here are some of the harmful effects of poison exposure:

  • Abdominal pain

  • Vomiting

  • Nausea

  • Loose stools

  • Pain and skin peeling over the lips, tongue, cheek

  • Burning sensation in the chest and abdomen

  • Change in taste perception

  • Bluish discolouration of the lips

  • Difficulty in breathing

  • Chest pain

  • Muscle cramps

  • Burns over the skin

  • Fever

  • Rashes

  • Dark pigmentation of the skin

  • Skin peeling

  • Light-headedness

  • Drowsiness

  • Headache

  • Vision changes (double vision, blurring, darkening)

  • Loss of balance

  • Confusion

  • Irrelevant speech

  • Stupor

  • Numbness

  • Tingling sensation over peripheries

  • Weakness of limbs

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Seizures, fits

  • Loss of control over urination/defecation

  • Uprolling of eyes

  • Frothing at the mouth

  • Vomiting of blood

This is a non-specific set of symptoms. It is important to remember the following. 

  • If there is any drop in the consciousness state or ability to function normally, it is an indicator of a serious situation that requires immediate hospital attention.

  • The symptoms may have been mild initially but can worsen quickly within the course of minutes to an hour depending on the poisonous substance.

Quick action: First aid for poisons

Here are some things to keep in mind if you feel anyone around you has been poisoned:

  1. Seek immediate help. In all cases, irrespective of the condition of the person, you must seek medical attention immediately. This can make a life-or-death difference as some poisons act rapidly and can only be treated if the person is brought to medical attention early.

  2. Assess the consciousness level of the person. If they are drowsy, lethargic, or unconscious, urgent help is needed.

  3. If there is a spill of poisonous substance over the skin or clothes, make sure that the clothes are removed, and a thorough wash of the area with just clean water is given. A wash with clean water for at least 15 minutes is recommended. Do not use other substances on top of the affected area until the doctor clears it. 

  4. If the eye is exposed to a toxic substance, constantly wash the eye with only clean water until a professional can take a look at the situation. This is called irrigation and is recommended to be carried out for at least 15 minutes. Do not use drops or any other substance.

  5. If there is a suspicion of inhaled toxic fumes (like carbon monoxide), make sure to remove the affected person and yourself from that area immediately. Open all doors and windows to disperse the fumes. It is better not to attempt to turn off the source unless you have adequate personal protection. Hence it is better to leave the area immediately and wait for a trained professional to deal with that.

  6. Do not attempt to induce vomiting. Some poisonous substances are referred to as caustic. They cause severe damage to the food pipe, and if you induce vomiting it worsens the situation. If you find any remnant of the substance in the mouth of a child, you can get them to spit it out, or remove it with your fingers. Take care to not force the object further down. 

  7. If a person is vomiting/has lost consciousness/has fits, call for help immediately. In the meantime, ensure that you roll them onto their left side. Have them lie on their left side, with a cushion or pillow under their back, and their right leg folded up to their chest. This prevents aspiration and choking. 

  8. Look for any packets/containers/tablets/plant substances/objects around the person where you find them. This could possibly be the substance they consumed. Inform your emergency providers/doctor as this can be vital information for treating the affected person.

  9. If the person is taking medications for an underlying health issue, make sure to give the doctors this information. 

  10. If the person has had a history of self-harm, mental health issues, or recent behavioural changes, make sure to inform their doctors. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here’s a list of common queries and their resolutions associated with first aid for poisons.

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Who is at a higher risk of accidental poisoning?

Children and older people are generally at more risk of accidental poisoning.

What is the most important thing to keep in mind regarding first aid for poisons?

It is important to take necessary preventive measures to protect people from unwanted exposure. In reactive circumstances, remember to call for help and get medical attention as early as possible. 

Do all poisonous exposures produce the same effects?

All poisonous exposures need not produce the same type of effects in people.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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