Common and Dangerous Poisons

The most common poisons in children

Did you know that even these common household items can poison children?

The most common poisons in adults

The most dangerous poisons for children

These are especially hazardous household items. Buy small quantities. Discard unneeded extras. Make sure they are always out of a child’s reach.

  • Medicines: these are OK in the right amount for the right person. They can be dangerous for children who take the wrong medicine or swallow too much. 
  • Carbon monoxide: This gas is in fact an invisible killer. Take it seriously. Make sure there’s a carbon monoxide alarm in every sleeping area of your home.
  • Button batteries: Be especially mindful of the 20 mm lithium coin cell. When swallowed by children, especially those younger than 4 years, it often lodges in the esophagus causing burns within just 2 hours. A hole in the esophagus may develop and the burn can extend into the trachea or aorta. More than 40 children have died from swallowing button batteries.
  • Iron pills: adult-strength iron pills are very dangerous for children to swallow. Children can start throwing up blood or having bloody diarrhea in less than an hour.
  • Cleaning products that cause chemical burns: these can be just as bad as burns from fire. Products that cause chemical burns include include drain openers, toilet bowl cleaners, rust removers, and oven cleaners. 
  • Nail glue remover and nail primer: some products used for artificial nails can be poisonous in surprising ways. Some nail glue removers have caused cyanide poisoning when swallowed by children. Some nail primers have caused burns to the skin and mouth of children who tried to drink them. 
  • Hydrocarbonsthis is a broad category that includes gasoline, kerosene, lamp oil, motor oil, lighter fluid, furniture polish, and paint thinner. These liquids are easy to choke on if someone tries to swallow them. If that happens, they can go down the wrong way, into the lungs instead of the stomach. If they get into someone’s lungs, they make it hard to breathe. They can also cause lung inflammation (like pneumonia). Hydrocarbons are among the leading causes of poisoning death in children.
  • Pesticides: chemicals to kill bugs and other pests must be used carefully to keep from harming humans. Many pesticides can be absorbed through skin. Many can also enter the body by breathing in the fumes. Some can affect the nervous system and can make it hard to breathe. 
  • Windshield washer solution and antifreezeSmall amounts of these liquids are poisonous to humans and pets. Windshield washer solution can cause blindness and death if swallowed. Antifreeze can cause kidney failure and death if swallowed. 
  • Wild mushrooms: many types of mushrooms grow in many areas of the country. Some are deadly to eat. Only experts in mushroom identification can tell the difference between poisonous mushrooms and safe mushrooms. 
  • Alcoholwhen children swallow alcohol, they can have seizures, go into a coma, or even die. This is true no matter where the alcohol comes from. Mouthwash, facial cleaners, and hair tonics can have as much alcohol in them as alcoholic beverages.
  • Drain cleaners and toilet bowl cleaners: These caustics cause devastating burns to the mouth, throat and stomach. Drain cleaners may be strongly alkaline and toilet bowl cleaners may be strong acids. If swallowed, they must be diluted immediately to limit the damage that rapidly occurs.
  • Topical anesthetics: These medicines can cause seizures or a condition called methemoglobinemia which keeps the blood from carrying oxygen to the tissues. Be especially careful with teething gels, hemorrhoid preparations, anti-itch creams, and sunburn relief agents.


    Acute poisoning is exposure to a poison on one occasion or during a short period of time. Symptoms develop in close relation to the exposure. Absorption of a poison is necessary for systemic poisoning. In contrast, substances that destroy tissue but do not absorb, such as lye, are classified as corrosives rather than poisons. Furthermore, many common household medications are not labeled with skull and crossbones, although they can cause severe illness or even death. In the medical sense, poisoning can be caused by less dangerous substances than those legally classified as a poison.

    Chronic poisoning is long-term repeated or continuous exposure to a poison where symptoms do not occur immediately or after each exposure. The patient gradually becomes ill, or becomes ill after a long latent period. Chronic poisoning most commonly occurs following exposure to poisons that bioaccumulate, or are biomagnified, such as mercury, gadolinium, and lead.

    Contact or absorption of poisons can cause rapid death or impairment. Agents that act on the nervous system can paralyze in seconds or less, and include both biologically derived neurotoxins and so-called nerve gases, which may be synthesized for warfare or industry.

    Inhaled or ingested cyanide, used as a method of execution in gas chambers, almost instantly starves the body of energy by inhibiting the enzymes in mitochondria that make ATP. Intravenous injection of an unnaturally high concentration of potassium chloride, such as in the execution of prisoners in parts of the United States, quickly stops the heart by eliminating the cell potential necessary for muscle contraction.

    Most biocides, including pesticides, are created to act as poisons to target organisms, although acute or less observable chronic poisoning can also occur in non-target organisms (secondary poisoning), including the humans who apply the biocides and other beneficial organisms. For example, the herbicide 2,4-D imitates the action of a plant hormone, which makes its lethal toxicity specific to plants. Indeed, 2,4-D is not a poison, but classified as “harmful” (EU).

    Many substances regarded as poisons are toxic only indirectly, by toxication. An example is “wood alcohol” or methanol, which is not poisonous itself, but is chemically converted to toxic formaldehydeand formic acid in the liver. Many drug molecules are made toxic in the liver, and the genetic variability of certain liver enzymes makes the toxicity of many compounds differ between individuals.

    Toxicology is the study of the symptoms, mechanisms, treatment and diagnosis of biological poisoning.

    Exposure to radioactive substances can produce radiation poisoning, an unrelated phenomenon.


    • Initial management for all poisonings includes ensuring adequate cardiopulmonary function and providing treatment for any symptoms such as seizuresshock, and pain.
    • Injected poisons (e.g., from the sting of animals) can be treated by binding the affected body part with a pressure bandage and placing the affected body part in hot water (with a temperature of 50 °C). The pressure bandage prevents the poison being pumped throughout the body, and the hot water breaks it down. This treatment, however, only works with poisons composed of protein-molecules.[7]
    • In the majority of poisonings the mainstay of management is providing supportive care for the patient, i.e., treating the symptoms rather than the poison.


    • Treatment of a recently ingested poison may involve gastric decontamination to decrease absorption. Gastric decontamination can involve activated charcoalgastric lavagewhole bowel irrigation, ornasogastric aspiration. Routine use of emetics (syrup of Ipecac), cathartics or laxatives are no longer recommended.
      • Activated charcoal is the treatment of choice to prevent poison absorption. It is usually administered when the patient is in the emergency room or by a trained emergency healthcare provider such as a Paramedic or EMT. However, charcoal is ineffective against metals such as sodiumpotassium, and lithium, and alcohols and glycols; it is also not recommended for ingestion of corrosive chemicals such as acids and alkalis.[8]
      • Cathartics were postulated to decrease absorption by increasing the expulsion of the poison from the gastrointestinal tract. There are two types of cathartics used in poisoned patients; saline cathartics (sodium sulfatemagnesium citratemagnesium sulfate) and saccharide cathartics (sorbitol). They do not appear to improve patient outcome and are no longer recommended.[9]
      • Emesis (i.e. induced by ipecac) is no longer recommended in poisoning situations, because vomiting is ineffective at removing poisons.[10]
      • Gastric lavage, commonly known as a stomach pump, is the insertion of a tube into the stomach, followed by administration of water or saline down the tube. The liquid is then removed along with the contents of the stomach. Lavage has been used for many years as a common treatment for poisoned patients. However, a recent review of the procedure in poisonings suggests no benefit.[11]It is still sometimes used if it can be performed within 1 hour of ingestion and the exposure is potentially life-threatening.
      • Nasogastric aspiration involves the placement of a tube via the nose down into the stomach, the stomach contents are then removed by suction. This procedure is mainly used for liquid ingestions where activated charcoal is ineffective, e.g. ethylene glycol poisoning.
      • Whole bowel irrigation cleanses the bowel. This is achieved by giving the patient large amounts of a polyethylene glycol solution. The osmotically balanced polyethylene glycol solution is not absorbed into the body, having the effect of flushing out the entire gastrointestinal tract. Its major uses are to treat ingestion of sustained release drugs, toxins not absorbed by activated charcoal (e.g., lithiumiron), and for removal of ingested drug packets (body packing/smuggling).[12]

    Enhanced excretion

    A poison is any substance that is harmful to your body. You might swallow it, inhale it, inject it, or absorb it through your skin. Any substance can be poisonous if too much is taken. Poisons can include

    The effects of poisoning range from short-term illness to brain damage, coma, and death. To prevent poisoning it is important to use and store products exactly as their labels say. Keep dangerous products where children can’t get to them. Treatment for poisoning depends on the type of poison. If you suspect someone has been poisoned, call your local poison control center right away.Alcohol poisoning is a serious — and sometimes deadly — consequence of drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. Drinking too much too quickly can affect your breathing, heart rate, body temperature and gag reflex and potentially lead to coma and death.

    Alcohol poisoning can also occur when adults or children accidentally or intentionally drink household products that contain alcohol.

    A person with alcohol poisoning needs immediate medical attention. If you suspect someone has alcohol poisoning, call for emergency medical help right away.

    Alcohol poisoning signs and symptoms include:

    • Confusion
    • Vomiting
    • Seizures
    • Slow breathing (less than eight breaths a minute)
    • Irregular breathing (a gap of more than 10 seconds between breaths)
    • Blue-tinged skin or pale skin
    • Low body temperature (hypothermia)
    • Passing out (unconsciousness) and can’t be awakened

    It’s not necessary to have all these signs and symptoms before you seek help. A person who is unconscious or can’t be awakened is at risk of dying.

    When to see a doctor

    If you suspect that someone has alcohol poisoning — even if you don’t see the classic signs and symptoms — seek immediate medical care.

    Alcohol poisoning is an emergency

    If you’re with someone who has been drinking a lot of alcohol and you see any of the signs or symptoms above, here’s what to do:

    • Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. Never assume that a person will sleep off alcohol poisoning.
    • Be prepared to provide information. If you know, be sure to tell hospital or emergency personnel the kind and amount of alcohol the person drank, and when.
    • Don’t leave an unconscious person alone. Because alcohol poisoning affects the way your gag reflex works, someone with alcohol poisoning may choke on his or her own vomit and not be able to breathe. While waiting for help, don’t try to make the person vomit because he or she could choke.
    • Help a person who is vomiting. Try to keep him or her sitting up. If the person must lie down, make sure to turn his or her head to the side — this helps prevent choking. Try to keep the person awake to prevent loss of consciousness.

    Don’t be afraid to get help

    It can be difficult to decide if you think someone is drunk enough to warrant medical intervention, but it’s best to err on the side of caution. You may worry about the consequences for yourself or your friend or loved one, particularly if you’re underage. But the consequences of not getting the right help in time can be far more serious.

    Alcohol in the form of ethanol (ethyl alcohol) is found in alcoholic beverages, mouthwash, cooking extracts, some medications and certain household products. Ethyl alcohol poisoning generally results from drinking too many alcoholic beverages, especially in a short period of time.

    Other forms of alcohol — including isopropyl alcohol (found in rubbing alcohol, lotions and some cleaning products) and methanol or ethylene glycol (a common ingredient in antifreeze, paints and solvents) — can cause another type of toxic poisoning that requires emergency treatment.

    Binge drinking

    A major cause of alcohol poisoning is binge drinking — a pattern of heavy drinking when a male rapidly consumes five or more alcoholic drinks within two hours, or a female downs at least four drinks within two hours. An alcohol binge can occur over hours or last up to several days.

    You can consume a fatal dose before you pass out. Even when you’re unconscious or you’ve stopped drinking, alcohol continues to be released from your stomach and intestines into your bloodstream, and the level of alcohol in your body continues to rise.

    Poisoning first aid

    Poisoning is caused by exposure to a harmful substance. This can be due to swallowing, injecting, breathing in, or other means. Most poisonings occur by accident.

    Immediate first aid is very important in a poisoning emergency. The first aid you give before getting medical help can save a person’s life.

    This is for information only and not for use in the treatment or management of an actual poison exposure.

    In the United States, call 1-800-222-1222 to speak with a local poison control center. This hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.


    Millions of poisonings are reported to United States poison control centers every year. Many result in death.

    It is important to note that just because a package does not have a warning label does not mean a substance is safe. You should consider poisoning if someone suddenly becomes sick for no apparent reason. Poisoning should also be considered if the person is found near a furnace, car, fire, or in an area that is not well ventilated.

    Symptoms of poisoning may take time to develop. However, if you think someone has been poisoned, DO NOT wait for symptoms to develop. Get medical help right away.


    Items that can cause poisoning include:

    • Carbon monoxide gas (from furnaces, gas engines, fires, space heaters)
    • Certain foods
    • Chemicals in the workplace
    • Drugs, including over-the-counter and prescription medicines (such as an aspirin overdose) and illicit drugs such as cocaine
    • Household detergents and cleaning products
    • Household and outdoor plants (eating toxic plants)
    • Insecticides
    • Paints

    First Aid

    Seek immediate medical help.

    For poisoning by swallowing:

    Check and monitor the person’s airway, breathing, and pulse. If necessary, begin rescue breathing and CPR.

    1. Try to make sure that the person has indeed been poisoned. It may be hard to tell. Some signs include chemical-smelling breath, burns around the mouth, difficulty breathing, vomiting, or unusual odors on the person. If possible, identify the poison.
    2. DO NOT make a person throw up unless told to do so by poison control or a health care professional.
    3. If the person vomits, clear the person’s airway. Wrap a cloth around your fingers before cleaning out the mouth and throat. If the person has been sick from a plant part, save the vomit. It may help experts identify what medicine can be used to help reverse the poisoning.
    4. If the person starts having convulsions, give convulsion first aid.
    5. Keep the person comfortable. The person should be rolled onto the left side, and remain there while getting or waiting for medical help.
    6. If the poison has spilled on the person’s clothes, remove the clothing and flush the skin with water.
    Check airway

    For inhalation poisoning:

    Call for emergency help. Never attempt to rescue a person without notifying others first.

    1. If it is safe to do so, rescue the person from the danger of the gas, fumes, or smoke. Open windows and doors to remove the fumes.
    2. Take several deep breaths of fresh air, and then hold your breath as you go in. Hold a wet cloth over your nose and mouth.
    3. DO NOT light a match or use a lighter because some gases can catch fire.
    4. After rescuing the person from danger, check and monitor the person’s airway, breathing, and pulse. If necessary, begin rescue breathing and CPR.
    5. If necessary, perform first aid for eye injuries or convulsion first aid.
    6. If the person vomits, clear the person’s airway. Wrap a cloth around your fingers before cleaning out the mouth and throat.
    7. Even if the person seems perfectly fine, get medical help.

    DO NOT

    DO NOT:

    • Give an unconscious person anything by mouth.
    • Induce vomiting unless you are told to do so by the Poison Control Center or a doctor. A strong poison that burns on the way down the throat will also do damage on the way back up.
    • Try to neutralize the poison with lemon juice or vinegar, or any other substance, unless you are told to do so by the Poison Control Center or a doctor.
    • Use any “cure-all” type antidote.
    • Wait for symptoms to develop if you suspect that someone has been poisoned.After doing first aid steps at home, you may need to go to the emergency room. Take the container with you to the hospital, if possible. At the hospital you will have an exam. You also may need the following tests and treatments.
      • Activated charcoal
      • Airway support, including oxygen, breathing tube through the mouth (intubation),and ventilator (breathing machine)
      • Blood and urine tests
      • Chest x-ray
      • CT (computerized tomography, or advanced imaging) scan
      • EKG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
      • Fluids through the vein (IV)
      • Laxative
      • Medicines to treat symptoms, including antidotes to reverse the effects of the poisoning if one exists


Be aware of poisons in and around your home. Take steps to protect young children from toxic substances. Store all medicines, cleaners, cosmetics, and household chemicals out of reach of children, or in cabinets with childproof latches.

Be familiar with plants in your home, yard, and vicinity. Keep your children informed, too. Remove any poisonous plants. Never eat wild plants, mushrooms, roots, or berries unless you very familiar with them.

Teach children about the dangers of substances that contain poison. Label all poisons.

DO NOT store household chemicals in food containers, even if they are labeled. Most nonfood substances are poisonous if taken in large doses.

If you are concerned that industrial poisons might be polluting nearby land or water, report your concerns to the local health department or the state or federal Environmental Protection Agency.A poison is any substance that is harmful to your body. You might swallow it, inhale it, inject it, or absorb it through your skin. Any substance can be poisonous if too much is taken. Poisons can include

The effects of poisoning range from short-term illness to brain damage, coma, and death. To prevent poisoning it is important to use and store products exactly as their labels say. Keep dangerous products where children can’t get to them. Treatment for poisoning depends on the type of poison. If you suspect someone has been poisoned, call your local poison control center right away.

Start Here

  • Household Products Database Poisoning is the harmful effect that occurs when a toxic substance is swallowed, is inhaled, or comes in contact with the skin, eyes, or mucous membranes, such as those of the mouth or nose.
    • Possible poisonous substances include prescription and over-the-counter drugs, illicit drugs, gases, chemicals, vitamins, food, mushrooms, plants, and animal venom.

    • Some poisons cause no damage, whereas others can cause severe damage or death.

    • The diagnosis is based on symptoms, on information gleaned from the poisoned person and bystanders, and sometimes on blood and urine tests.

    • Drugs should always be kept in original child-proof containers and kept out of the reach of children.

    • Treatment consists of supporting the person, preventing additional absorption of the poison, and sometimes increasing elimination of the poison.

    Poisoning is the most common cause of nonfatal accidents in the home. More than 2 million people suffer some type of poisoning each year in the United States. Drugs—prescription, over-the-counter, and illicit—are a common source of serious poisonings and poisoning-related deaths. Other common poisons include gases, household products, agricultural products, plants, industrial chemicals, vitamins, animal venom, and foods (particularly certain species of mushrooms and fish). However, almost any substance ingested in sufficiently large quantities can be toxic.

    Young children, because of curiosity and a tendency to explore, are particularly vulnerable to accidental poisoning in the home, as are older people, often due to confusion about their drugs. Also vulnerable to accidental poisoning are hospitalized people (by drug errors) and industrial workers (by exposure to toxic chemicals). Poisoning may also be a deliberate attempt to commit murder or suicide. Most adults who attempt suicide by poisoning take more than one drug and also consume alcohol.

    The damage caused by poisoning depends on the poison, the amount taken, and the age and underlying health of the person who takes it. Some poisons are not very potent and cause problems only with prolonged exposure or repeated ingestion of large amounts. Other poisons are so potent that just a drop on the skin can cause severe damage.Being poisoned can be life-threatening. If someone has swallowed a poisonous substance, don’t try to treat them yourself – seek medical help immediately.

    If they’re showing signs of being seriously ill, dial 999 to request an ambulance or take them to your local A&E department.

    Symptoms associated with serious poisoning include:

    Call NHS 111 for advice if a person who’s been poisoned doesn’t appear to be seriously ill.

    Helping someone who’s conscious

    If you think someone has been severely poisoned and they’re still conscious, ask them to sit still and stay with them while you wait for medical help to arrive.

    If they’ve been poisoned by swallowing something, try to get them to spit out anything that is remaining in their mouth.

    If a harmful substance has splashed onto their skin or clothes, remove any contaminated items and wash the affected area thoroughly with warm or cool water. Be careful not to contaminate yourself in the process.

    Helping someone who is unconscious

    If you think someone has swallowed poison and they appear to be unconscious, try to wake them and encourage them to spit out anything left in their mouth. Don’t put your hand into their mouth and don’t try to make them sick.

    While you’re waiting for medical help to arrive, lie the person on their side with a cushion behind their back and their upper leg pulled slightly forward, so they don’t fall on their face or roll backwards. This is known as the recovery position.

    Wipe any vomit away from their mouth and keep their head pointing down, to allow any vomit to escape without them breathing it in or swallowing it. Don’t give them anything to eat or drink.

    If the person isn’t breathing or their heart has stopped, begincardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if you know how to.

    Poisonous fumes

    If you think someone has inhaled poisonous fumes, assess the situation first and don’t put yourself in danger.

    If the person is conscious, encourage them to make their way out of the contaminated area, if at all possible. Once they’re out into fresh air, check to see if they’re OK and call 999 if they have signs of serious poisoning (see above).

    Dial 999 to request an ambulance if the person is unconscious or unable to get out of the affected area. Don’t enter any enclosed areas to remove the person yourself because toxic gases and fumes can be very dangerous if inhaled.

    How to help medical staff

    Medical staff will need to take a detailed history to effectively treat a person who’s been poisoned. When the paramedics arrive or when you arrive at A&E, give them as much information as you can, including:

    • what substances you think the person may have swallowed
    • when the substance was taken (how long ago)
    • why the substance was taken – whether it was an accident or deliberate
    • how it was taken (for example, swallowed or inhaled)
    • how much was taken (if you know)

    Give details of any symptoms the person has had, such as whether they’ve been sick.

    Medical staff may also want to know:

    • the person’s age and estimated weight
    • whether they have any existing medical conditions
    • whether they’re taking any medication (if you know)

    The container the substance came in will help give medical staff a clear idea of what it is. If you don’t know what caused the poisoning, blood testsmay be needed to identify the cause.

  • Hospital treatment

    Some people who have swallowed a poisonous substance or overdosed on medication will be admitted to hospital for examination and treatment.

    Possible treatments that can be used to treat poisoning include:

    • activated charcoal – is sometimes used to treat someone who’s been poisoned; the charcoal binds to the poison and stops it being further absorbed into the blood
    • antidotes – these are substances that either prevent the poison from working or reverse its effects
    • sedatives – may be given if the person is agitated
    • a ventilator (breathing machine) – may be used if the person stops breathing
    • anti-epileptic medicine – may be used if the person has seizures (fits)

    Tests and investigations

    Investigations may include blood tests and an electrocardiogram (ECG).

    A blood test can be used to check the levels of chemicals and glucose in the blood. They may be used to perform a toxicology screen (tests to find out how many drugs or medication a person has taken), and a liver function test, which indicates how damaged the liver is.

    The Lab Tests Online UK website has more information about liver function tests.

    An ECG is an electrical recording of the heart to check that it’s functioning properly.

    Further information

    For more information about treating specific types of poisoning see:


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