Learn first aid for someone who has swallowed something harmful

Substances such as prescription or non-prescription drugs, household cleaning and DIY products and some plants can be harmful if you swallow them.

1. Establish what they have taken, when they took it and how much they took.

The emergency services will want to know this information.

2. Call 999 as soon as possible.

If you can’t call 999, get someone else to do it. The substance could be extremely harmful and the person may need urgent medical attention.

3. Do not make the person sick.

By making them sick, you can cause further damage to their throat or block their airway.

Watch how to help someone who has swallowed something harmful (1 minute 43 seconds)

Common questions about first aid for someone who has swallowed something harmful

How can I tell if someone has swallowed something harmful?


What should I do if I think the person seems fine but has swallowed something harmful?


Can I give them something to drink?


Why shouldn’t I make the person sick?


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


What should I do if the person becomes unresponsive?


 

How can I tell if someone has swallowed something harmful?

The person may vomit and have stomach pain. They may have evidence of the harmful substance around their mouth, or smell of it. There may be empty containers nearby: for example, containers for medication, alcohol or cleaning products.

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What should I do if I think the person seems fine but has swallowed something harmful?

Call 999 anyway, even if they seem to be showing no symptoms.

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Can I give them something to drink?

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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Why shouldn’t I make the person sick?

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

Get them to sit still, reassure them and listen to what they tell you.

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What should I do if the person becomes unresponsive?

Find out:

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Email us if you have any other questions about first aid for someone who has swallowed something harmful.