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Preventing Accidental Poisoning

by Audrey T. Hingley


If you suspect childhood poisoning, call the nearest poison control center or your physician first, and follow their instructions precisely.

To induce vomiting in case of accidental poisoning, experts recommend keeping on hand syrup of ipecac--safely stored away from children, of course! Syrup of ipecac induces vomiting, thus ridding the body of the swallowed poison. It usually works within a half-hour of ingestion.

Some medical experts also recommend that parents keep activated charcoal on hand as well: You may have to ask your druggist for it, because it may not be on store shelves. Although some poison control experts recommend having activated charcoal on hand, there is a difference of opinion on its use by consumers. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, for example, does not recommend that consumers use activated charcoal because it is less palatable to young children.

Activated charcoal (or charcoal treated with substances that increase its absorption abilities) absorbs poison, preventing it from spreading throughout the body. One advantage of activated charcoal is that it can be effective for a considerable time after the poison is swallowed. But activated charcoal should never be used at the same time you administer syrup of ipecac: The charcoal will absorb the ipecac.

For children ages 1 to 12, give one tablespoon of syrup of ipecac followed by one or two glasses of water. Children ages 12 and over should get two tablespoons, followed by one or two glasses of water.

Activated charcoal is usually found in drugstores in liquid form in 30-gram doses. For children under 5, give one gram per every two pounds of body weight. Older children and adults may require much higher doses. Both antidotes should only be used on conscious poison victims; an unconscious victim should always be treated by professionals.

"Remember to call your local poison control center first before giving your child any at-home antidote," says Robert Mueller, poison information specialist at the Virginia Poison Center in Richmond, Va.


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