Hesperian Health Guides


For most poisons: quickly flush the poison out by drinking large amounts of water. Taking activated charcoal will help remove the poison through elimination later in stool. If you know the specific poison, see the charts below for information on what to do.

For an adult: Give 50 to 100 grams activated charcoal
mixed with water.
For a child: Estimate how much the child weighs and give 1 gram activated charcoal per kilogram of weight, mixed
with water.

Activated charcoal is an inexpensive and very helpful remedy to keep in your medicine supply.

Do not give water, charcoal, or anything else to swallow to someone who cannot breathe well or is losing consciousness. Remember: maintaining breathing is always most important.

Vomiting is not usually helpful for poisoning, and it can be dangerous. Someone who has swallowed corrosive chemicals like acids or lye, or gasoline, kerosene, or turpentine, or who is having trouble breathing should never try to vomit up the poison.

If you do try to vomit, do so as soon as possible, within the first few hours. To encourage vomiting, touch the back of the throat with a finger or swallow a spoonful of salt.

a child reaching up toward a locked cabinet.
Keep all poisons out of the reach of children.

Poisoning is preventable. Label all poisons and medicines clearly. Keep them out of the reach of children in high or locked cabinets. Never use empty poison containers for food or drink even if you clean them first. Likewise never put poisons in bottles or containers made to be used for food or drink.

Poison is a common method people use to kill or harm themselves. Locking away poisons, guns, and other potentially deadly materials is a surprisingly effective way to prevent suicide deaths. For more on how to help someone who wants to kill himself, see Mental Health Emergency.


Types of Chemicals
 Signs of poisoning
What to do
  • Ammonia
  • Batteries
  • Acids
  • Drain cleaner
  • Caustic soda
  • Lye
batteries and lye

Acids or bases.
These chemicals
burn the inside
of the body.
  • Extra saliva.
  • Pain in mouth,
    throat, chest,
    stomach, or back.
  • Vomiting.
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Do not try to vomit.
  • Activated charcoal is of little use.
  • Give as much water as you can. Get help.
  • Gasoline
  • Turpentine
  • Paint thinner
  • Kerosene
  • Phenol
  • Carbolic acid
  • Camphor
  • Pine oil
a can of gasoline.

These are most
dangerous if
breathed into
the lungs.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Coughing, choking, gagging.
  • Fever.
  • Seizures or loss of consciousness
    (passing out).
  • The breath may smell
    like the poison.
  • Do not try to vomit.
  • Do not give activated charcoal.
  • Give a lot of water.
  • Wash hydrocarbons off skin
    and hair and take off any contaminated clothes.
  • Give help with breathing if needed and watch the person's breathing for 2 days.
  • Get help
Gets into air or water from use in: mining, factory work, animal hide hair removal (tanning).
a box of rat poison.

Indoor fires can
cause you to
breathe cyanide
that was in the
burning materials.
You may smell
bitter almond in
smoke that has
cyanide in it.
  • Breathing problems.
  • Headache, confusion, and seizures.
  • There can be long
    lasting damage to
    the brain.
  • Do not try to vomit.
  • Watch for breathing problems, and try to restart the heart if
    it stops.
  • Using a paper mask when beginning rescue breathing prevents the cyanide from passing to you.
  • Give lots of water.
  • Can be treated with sodium nitrite followed by sodium thiosulfate.

    Hydroxocobalamin is also used.
and carbamate:

Found in certain
pesticides including:
  • malathion
  • parathion
a box of pesticide.

These chemicals
can stop breathing
or cause other
  • Slowing pulse, muscle weakness, breathing problems.
  • Runny nose, crying, drooling.
  • Seizures
  • The breath may smell
    like fuel or garlic.
  • Life-threatening
    problems can happen
    days after this poison is taken, and long-term
    nerve problems can
    happen weeks after.
  • Watch for breathing problems
    and give rescue breathing
    if needed.
  • Atropine is an antidote.
  • Give activated charcoal if it has been less than 1 hour since the poisoning.
  • Wash skin right away and throw out contaminated clothes.
  • Treat seizures with diazepam.
  • Paraquat
    Cyclone, Herbikill,
    , and many other
    brand names)
  • Glyphosate
    , other
    brand names)
a man applying pesticide in a field.

Can be absorbed
through the skin, by
breathing it in, or
most dangerously,
by swallowing.
  • Breathing problems (can happen days after).
  • Mouth pain.
  • Red or brown urine, or little or no urine (a sign that the kidney is failing — very dangerous).
  • Large quantities can cause burns in the mouth and throat, stomach pain, and breathing problems.
  • Watch for breathing problems and give rescue breathing if needed.
  • Give activated charcoal.
  • Get help.


Types of Drugs
 Signs of overdose
What to do
  • Ferrous sulfate
  • Ferrous gluconate
  • Prenatal vitamins
  • Multivitamin pills
    or syrup
a bottle of iron tablets.

An overdose
damages the
stomach and
  • Pain, vomit or bloody
    vomit, diarrhea,
  • Shock immediately
    or up to 2 days later.
  • Immediate vomiting may help
  • Give lots and lots of water.
  • Activated charcoal is not helpful
  • Deferoxamine is an antidote.
  • Watch for breathing problems.
  • Acetaminophen (Panadol, Tylenol, Crocin, and other brand names)
  • Many combination cold medicines and pain medicines (read the label)
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An overdose
is poisonous
to the liver.
  • Nausea, sweating, pale skin, tiredness.
  • Later there may be liver pain (right upper belly) jaundice, confusion, or bloody urine.
Opioid medicines and drugs:
  • Morphine
  • Heroin
  • Fentanyl
  • Methadone
  • Opium
  • Oxycodone
  • Codeine
  • Other strong pain medicines
An overdose
can cause the person to stop breathing.
  • Slow thinking, slow reactions, slow, shallow or stopped breathing.
  • If the person is breathing fewer than 12 breaths a minute give rescue breathing.
  • Naloxone is an antidote.
  • Do not let the person drink or swallow until she is breathing well.
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An overdose can cause the person to stop breathing.
  • Vomiting.
  • Confusion.
  • Seizures.
  • Slow or irregular breathing.
  • Loss of consciousness.
    Confusion, changes
    in consciousness, irregular breathing, and feeling or looking ill could also be signs of a diabetic emergency
  • Monitor the person's breathing and give rescue breathing if necessary.
  • Turn him on his side to prevent choking if he vomits.
  • Keep the person warm.
  • If the person is able to drink, give rehydration drink.

This page was updated:17 Sep 2020