A poison also called a toxin is a substance, which if taken into the body in sufficient quantity, may cause temporary or permanent damage.


Thee 4 main entry routes into the body are:

  • Inhaled:  When it is taken in to the lungs when we breath.
  • Ingested: Swallowed either accidently or on purpose.
  • Absorbed: Absorbed through the skin.
  • Injected: Injected into the tissues or a blood vessel.


Poisons are common in the home and the workplace. There are two major types:


1. Corrosive:                 

This group contains products that were never intended to be ingested or inhaled.


Examples are: Household products cleaning products such as bleach, dishwasher powered, acids, carbon monoxide, paint thinners and shampoo.


2. Non-Corrosive:

This group contains products that are to be ingested in small quantities, but which are harmful taken in large amounts.


Examples are: Pharmaceuticals, alcohol, drugs, medicinal herbs etc.


Possible Signs & Symptoms:

The effects of poisons are as numerous as the poisons themselves. The mechanism of many poisons is still not understood but some poisons interfere with metabolism, whilst others destroy the liver and kidneys. Some depress the CNS (Central Nervous System) leading to coma and eventual respiratory and circulatory collapse. Severity of symptoms can range from headache to convulsions and death.


Look for:

  • Evidence of bottles, containers, plastic wrapping.
  • Tablets or drugs.
  • Syringes.


Other indicators of possible poisoning are:

  • Low level of consciousness (AVPU).
  • Headache.
  • Possible fitting.
  • Confusion or hallucination.
  • Nausea and/or Vomiting (if vomiting keep a sample for testing in the hospital to determine exact composition of poison).
  • Abdominal pains.
  • Burns around the lips and mouth.



Corrosive substance:

  • Personal safety: Make sure it is safe.
  • Dilute the substance or wash it away.
  • Ingested substances: Encourage patient to rinse out their mouth, then give frequent sips of milk or water.


Substances on the skin:

It’s important the first aiders are familiar with the corrosive substances used within the workplace and the correct treatment needed.

  • Make sure of your personal safety first.
  • Dry powder chemical can be carefully brushed of the skin, but make sure it is contained.
  • Irrigate the burn with lots of running away, for at least 20 minutes – remove contaminated clothing carefully whilst irrigating the burn.
  • If the patient’s eyes are affected, irrigate as above ensuring the water runs away from the unaffected eye.
  • Some workplace chemicals cannot be safely diluted with water but may require an ‘Antidote’. ALL first aiders should be familiar with the correct procedure and use of this antidote should an emergency occur.
  • If the patient becomes unconscious and is breathing normally, place in the recovery position and dial 999. Continually monitor patient's airway and breathing until paramedics arrive.


Non-Corrosive substances:

  • Dial 999 and answer the questions from the ambulance operator.
  • If the patient becomes unconscious and is breathing normally, place in the recovery position.
  • Continually monitor patient's airway and breathing until paramedics arrive.


Useful information for paramedics:

  • Evidence found in and around patient, containers or product information.
  • How much may have been take.
  • When it may have been take.



  • NEVER make the patient vomit.

We hope you find this article useful. This is one in an alphabetical series of articles addressing various symptoms and their first aid treatments. If you would like more information on related resuscitation and first aid training, please get in touch.


You might also be interested in our blog. In this particular post, Sheila Mitchard explains why being a paramedic is like being a detective inspector.


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