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Questions and answers aboutpoisoning and harmful substances

Here are some questions people often ask. If you have a question that isn’t answered here, please feel free to email us at firstaid@redcross.org.uk or use this form.

Q

How can I tell if someone has taken poison or another harmful substance?

Answer
Answer

They may vomit and have stomach pain.


There may be empty containers nearby (e.g. pill or alcohol bottles or cleaning products).

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Q

What are poisons and harmful substances?

Answer
Answer

Drugs (prescription or non-prescription drugs), chemicals (including household cleaning products) and some plants can be harmful if you swallow them.

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Q

Can I give them something to drink?

Answer
Answer

No, don’t give them anything to drink. The fluid will enter their stomach and break down the harmful substance. This may result in it being absorbed into their body more quickly.

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Q

Why shouldn’t I make the person sick?

Answer
Answer

Making them vomit can cause more damage to the throat or block their airway. If they have swallowed something corrosive, the liquid will burn the throat on the way back up, causing more pain and distress.

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Q

What should I do while I wait for the ambulance to arrive?

Answer
Answer

Get them to sit still and reassure them.

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Q

What should I do if the person becomes unresponsive?

Answer
Q

What should I do if I think the person has taken poison or another harmful substance, but they seem fine?

Answer
Answer

Call 999 anyway, even if the person seems to be showing no symptoms.

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