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First aid for poisoning

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 243 views

Poisoning (intoxication) can have a variety of causes, such as accidentally swallowing chemicals or an overdose of medication or illegal drugs. Poisonous plants, fungi and animals can also be dangerous. The same applies to alcohol poisoning. Therefore, one should generally know about possible symptoms of poisoning and the right first aid. Read everything you need to know about it here!

ICD codes for this disease:

ICD codes are internationally valid codes for medical diagnoses. They can be found, for example, in doctor’s letters or on certificates of incapacity for work.

T42 T54 T56 T43 T40 T64 T61 T55 T39 T58 T51 T62 T52

quick overview

  • What is poisoning? The harmful effect of a foreign or toxic substance on the body.
  • How can poisoning be recognized? depending on the type of poisoning, eg nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, dizziness , seizures, unconsciousness, cardiovascular failure, respiratory arrest
  • What to do in case of poisoning? In the event of (suspected) poisoning, you should always call a doctor or the emergency doctor!


  • Some poisonings are only slightly dangerous, while others can even be fatal. Laypersons can hardly assess this, which is why a doctor must always be alerted if poisoning is suspected!
  • In the event of poisoning, stay away from home remedies! For example, do not give the affected person milk to drink, because otherwise the poison can get into the blood even faster .
  • In the event of poisoning, doctors rarely induce vomiting these days – because it can only remove a small amount of the poison from the body and also carries risks (e.g. vomit can enter the windpipe or a corrosive substance can slosh through the esophagus a second time ). Laypersons should never induce vomiting in those affected!

Poisoning: what is it?

Poisoning (medical intoxication) is damage to the body caused by contact with a toxic substance. Contact can be established in a number of ways:

  • breathe in
  • Swallow
  • Skin and/or mucous membrane contact (such as the eyes or nose )

Some substances that cause poisoning are poisonous even in small amounts. Others, on the other hand, are normally non-toxic (e.g. shaving cream, toothpaste, chalk, vitamin supplements) and only become dangerous in larger quantities.

Almost all substances can be poisonous in the right dose – “the dose makes the poison” (Paracelsus).

Accidental and intentional poisoning

Unintentional poisoning can occur, for example, if your child drinks from the supposed soda bottle in which you keep household cleaning agents or furniture polish. Mixing up medicines or handling toxic chemicals can also be the reason for accidental poisoning.

Deliberate poisoning is often intended to kill, or at least harm, oneself or someone else. This can happen, for example, through the ingestion of a poison or an overdose of medication. Sometimes people are poisoned on purpose to make them defenseless (e.g. for rape or robbery).

types of poisoning

The main types of poisoning are:

Food poisoning : It results from eating spoiled food. The exact cause of the symptoms are, for example, toxins, bacteria or parasites in the food.

The consumption of insufficiently heated or poisonous mushrooms can also trigger symptoms of poisoning. You can read more about this in the article mushroom poisoning .

Alcohol Poisoning : When someone consumes large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time, alcohol poisoning results. The consequences depend on the extent of the poisoning. A blood alcohol level of five per thousand is generally fatal. By the way: alcohol is not only found in wine, beer & co., but also in some cosmetic products, disinfectants and cleaning agents.

Plant poisoning : It often occurs in (small) children who inadvertently put colorful berries or leaves in their mouths . Ingredients such as essential oils or toxins are then responsible for the symptoms of poisoning. Adults can also contract plant poisoning, for example if they accidentally pick and eat the similar-looking leaves of lily of the valley while looking for wild garlic.

Drug poisoning : It results from overdosing on a drug. This can happen accidentally, for example in older people. Poisoning with drugs is often also intentional – as a suicide attempt.

Poisoning with gases : Symptoms of poisoning can also occur when inhaling various gases (eg carbon monoxide). One example is smoke inhalation (intoxication from inhaling smoke or fumes from a fire).

Chemical poisoning : This includes, but is not limited to, eye burns from acid, but also skin damage from contact with toxic substances. Chemical poisoning also occurs when children swallow toilet cleaner or dishwasher tabs while playing.

Heavy metal poisoning : It is usually a gradual intoxication – those affected unconsciously absorb small amounts of a toxic heavy metal (such as iron , lead, mercury, copper ) over a longer period of time, which accumulates in the body. This can happen, for example, via contaminated food (e.g. fish contaminated with mercury) or via drinking water from lead pipes.

Poisoning: how to recognize?

The symptoms of poisoning depend, among other things, on the type and dose of the toxic substance. In addition, people can react differently to the same toxic substance. General symptoms of poisoning are, for example:

  • nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • stomach pain
  • headache, dizziness
  • agitation, hallucinations , confusion
  • accelerated or slowed pulse
  • Pallor , reddening of the skin, feeling hot
  • shock
  • Breathing problems up to respiratory arrest
  • cardiovascular failure

Depending on the effect of the poison, other symptoms can also occur, such as seizures, salivation and lacrimation, paralysis and sweating . If the poison came into contact with the skin , it can react with a rash and blistering – and with chronic contact with inflammation (dermatitis). Eye contact with toxins causes pain and redness of the eyes. In addition, the patient no longer sees as well or at all in the affected eye .

Symptoms of poisoning usually appear soon after exposure to the toxin. With some substances, however, it can also take some time before the first symptoms appear (e.g. because only a metabolite of the substance in question triggers symptoms of poisoning in the body).

Poisoning: first aid measures

What you should do if you want to help someone who has been poisoned always depends on what they poisoned themselves with, what symptoms they are showing and how severe the poisoning is.

In the event of poisoning via the digestive tract (e.g. with alcohol, medication, poisonous or spoiled food, poisonous plants, chemicals), you should take the following first aid measures :

Calm the victim down, especially if it’s a child, and keep calm yourself.

Call the emergency services (112) . Then dial the poison control center in your region. The staff there will tell you what you can and should do.

If the affected person can talk, open their mouth and try to wipe out any residue of the ingestion with a finger .

Keep all leftovers that could be the cause of the poisoning (e.g. leftover food, leftover mushrooms, tablets, parts of plants). Take this – and/or vomit if necessary – with you to the doctor or hospital so that the doctor can determine what kind of poisoning it is.

If the person concerned has to vomit on their own, you can help them by supporting their head or stroking their back to calm them down.

Never provoke vomiting – especially not after a seizure, if the affected person is unconscious, has difficulty breathing (danger of suffocation!) or has swallowed caustic or foaming substances such as acids, alkalis, household cleaning agents.

First aid for gas poisoning

In the event of gas poisoning , you should first remove the person affected from the danger zone (if you do not endanger yourself!) and take them into the fresh air. Alternatively, you can ventilate the room well so that the gases dissipate.

Pay attention to your safety: If gases escape in closed rooms, they are not only poisonous, but often also highly flammable. Open flames or flying sparks can ignite the gas.

Further first aid measures are only advisable when the person concerned has been rescued from the dangerous situation – i.e. calming the patient down , putting him in a stable side position if he is unconscious and resuscitating him if necessary .

First aid for chemical poisoning

If someone gets chemicals (such as acid) in their eyes or on their skin, flush thoroughly with cool, clear water for at least 10 minutes . If the eyes are affected, hold the eyelid open as best you can, always rinsing from nose to temple.

Do not remove any clothing from the victim that is soaked in the chemical – you may tear the skin underneath!

Poisoning: when to see a doctor?

Not every poisoning requires medical treatment. However, a layman cannot assess which poisoning is comparatively harmless and which can possibly cause serious damage or even death. That’s why you should consult an expert even if you suspect poisoning: take the person affected to the doctor or alert the emergency doctor. At the very least, you should call a poison control center (if they suspect someone has been in contact with something poisonous but is not yet showing symptoms).

Poisoning: medical examinations

In order to start the right treatment, the doctor needs to find out more about the possible cause and the severity of the poisoning.

To do this, he will first obtain important background information in a conversation ( anamnesis ): If possible, he will ask the patient which substances he has come into contact with (by swallowing, inhaling, touching, etc.). He also asks how much was eaten, for example, of a suspicious meal or swallowed of a chemical. It is also important when that was and how soon which symptoms appeared. If the patient is unresponsive or too young, perhaps you as the first responder can provide the necessary information.

It will also help the doctor if you, as the first responder, have recovered the patient’s toxic meal, drug, chemical and/or vomit. This makes it easier to determine the exact cause of the poisoning.

physical examination (including measuring blood pressure, etc.) gives the doctor information about the general condition of the patient. In addition, this can provide information about the type of poisoning. For example, some toxins change the smell of the air we breathe in a characteristic way. And any injection sites may indicate that the patient has injected drugs.

Other investigations that may be useful include:

  • Blood analysis : The cause of the poisoning (drugs, carbon monoxide, etc.) can often be detected in the blood. In addition, blood values ​​often indicate possible disorders of organ functions (such as the liver or kidneys ) as a result of the poisoning.
  • Urine test: This test can be used to detect drugs, for example.
  • Stool examination : The doctor has a stool sample analyzed if, for example, hesuspects salmonella poisoning .
  • X-ray examination: X-rays can sometimes reveal the cause of poisoning, for example metals such as lead, swallowed packets of drugs (from drug couriers), swallowed batteries or animal remains from a poisonous animal attack (eg poisonous fangs).

Poisoning: Treatment by the doctor

Poisoning does not always require medical treatment. If you do, you may need to stay in hospital. During treatment, the patient’s state of health is monitored or stabilized and the body is supported in excreting the ingested toxin more quickly (usually through the urine) or to deactivate it (usually through the liver).

ensure bodily function

In the event of poisoning, the doctor will ensure that the person’s heart continues to beat, that breathing does not stop, and that blood pressure remains stable. It may be necessary to connect it to certain devices (e.g. ventilator, cardiovascular monitor).

In the case of kidney failure, the patient may receive blood washing ( dialysis ). In very severe cases, in which the liver and/or kidneys have become permanently inoperable as a result of the poisoning, an organ transplant may be necessary.

Prevent ingestion and spread of the poison

The doctor may administer activated charcoal if the victim has swallowed poison. It binds the toxic substance in the digestive tract so that it can no longer get into the blood. However, activated charcoal is not effective against all toxins, and it is useless with many household chemicals or alcohol. In addition, she cannot do anything against the poison that has already entered the blood.

If poison is ingested orally, it may also be useful to pump out the victim’s stomach . This is what the doctor will do if the poison is very dangerous or if the patient’s general health is poor.

administer antidote

For some poisons (e.g. paracetamol , heroin, some snake venoms) there are special antidotes. Their administration can be useful in severe poisoning. However, the person affected often recovers on their own.

Further measures

Depending on the type and extent of the poisoning, further measures may be useful. If, for example, toxic substances get into the eyes or onto the skin of the person concerned, the doctor rinses the respective parts of the body with plenty of (saline) water.

If the victim has tried to kill himself with a poisonous substance, psychological support is offered in addition to medical help.

prevent poisoning

Various precautionary measures reduce the risk of accidental poisoning. They are particularly advisable in households with children:

  • Store medicines in a place inaccessible to children. A lockable medicine cabinet is best suited for this.
  • Lock away medicines after each use, even if they are needed several times a day (by you or someone else in your household).
  • Never leave medicines lying around. Colored pills in particular are very similar to candy, making them easy for small children to grab.
  • Always keep household chemicals such as cleaning agents, dishwashing liquids and detergents out of the reach of children, preferably in a lockable cupboard.
  • Never transfer chemicals into food packaging, e.g. B. in a juice bottle. If you do, then label the container large and clear!
  • In general, always label containers with chemicals or other poisons clearly and ensure that the caps are childproof.
  • Don’t get distracted if you’ve just opened household chemicals. Recap the bottle or container when you turn to other children, answer a phone call, or ring the doorbell.
  • If smokers live in the household: Never leave cigarette butts and packs, loose tobacco, etc. lying around. Children are curious and imitate many things adults do or quickly put something in their mouth. Even tobacco residue can cause poisoning.
  • Keep alcoholic beverages out of the reach of children. Even small amounts of alcohol are very dangerous for young children. It is best to lock away alcoholic beverages so that older children are not tempted to try them.
  • Educate your children at an early age, but in an age-appropriate manner, about the dangers of medicines, household chemicals, poisonous plants, mushrooms, cigarettes and alcohol.
  • Discuss and review measures to prevent poisoning in other households where your child is often, e.g. B. with the grandparents or the childminder.

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