Poisoning: When to Induce Vomiting
It sounds logical. To get rid of poison that's been swallowed, the best thing is vomit it up, right? Wrong. In most cases, vomiting is the ideal antidote. But there are times when it is best to keep the poison down and wait for emergency medical help.
Only your local poison control center can tell you for sure whether it's good to vomit. If you cannot reach your local poison control center, you'll have to make a judgment call. Do not induce vomiting under any of the following conditions:
First Things First
If you don't know what the victim has ingested, do not induce vomiting. It's far better to be safe than to possibly cause more harm.
- Someone has swallowed a cleaning product containing acids or alkalis. They can severely burn throat tissue as he or she throws up.
- Someone has swallowed a petroleum-based product. These types of cleaners exude fumes that can cause pneumonia if inhaled. When the poisoned person vomits, these fumes can be inhaled.
- The victim is groggy or confused.
- He or she is too young to understand and follow directions (such as a baby less than two years old).
- You are in doubt. The person's age, the delay time, and the amount ingested all factor into the equation.
How to Induce Vomiting
We can't repeat it enough: call the poison control center immediately when someone eats or drinks a poison. If the authorities at the poison control center give you the green light (excuse the poor choice of colors) to induce vomiting and eliminate the ingested poison, follow these important steps. They tell you exactly how to make someone vomit.
- Give an adult patient two tablespoons of syrup of ipecac; give a child patient one tablespoon; give a baby (less than 12 months old) two teaspoons.
- Follow the syrup with four or five glasses of water.
- Make sure the person's head is lowered to prevent choking. Inside, an adult or child can lie across a bed with his head off the side; outside, he can kneel with his head bent. If a baby swallows poison, keep the baby on your lap with her head down.
- Try to have the ill person vomit into a bowl so that you can take it to the emergency ward for analysis.
- If the patient does not vomit, try to induce vomiting again in 20 minutes.
- If the ill person still does not vomit, don't give him or her any more syrup. Instead, insert your finger in his or her throat to stimulate vomiting via the gagging reflex.
- After the person vomits, mix one ounce of activated charcoal (if available) in water and have the person sip it. This calms the stomach and acts as a temporary neutralizing antidote.
- Keep the poisoned person warm.
- Keep the poisoned person calm. He or she might become panicked. Soothe as best you can. As a last resort, restrain the person using a belt—but only if his or her agitation is so great that it could cause more injury.
- Mind your ABCs of first aid: Make sure that Airways are clear, Breathing is fairly normal, and Circulation (via pulse) is okay (see The ABC's of First Aid).
- Treat for shock or resuscitate if necessary (see Performing Mouth-to-Mouth Resuscitation).
- If the ill person begins to have a convulsion, provide convulsion first aid immediately (see Seizures: Types, Symptoms, and Treatment).
First Things First
If vomiting seems inevitable, turn the person's head to the side so the airways aren't blocked. Try to get him or her to swallow and take deep breaths between vomiting.
First Aid for Poisoning When Vomiting Isn't Advised
Preventing a person from vomiting can be as difficult as inducing him to vomit—especially if he has ingested something particularly nauseating and painful. If you are treating a person who has ingested a poison for which induced vomiting is not advised, follow these steps:
- Call 911 and get medical help as fast as you can.
- Place the person in a prone position. This will keep the reflex action subdued.
- Keep the person's head down on the pillow.
- Keep the person calm and comfortable until help arrives.
More on: First Aid
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to First Aid Basics © 1996 by Stephen J. Rosenberg, M.D. and Karla Dougherty. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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