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A poison is a substance (other than an infectious substance) that is harmful to human health if ingested, inhaled, injected, or absorbed through the skin.

    Signs and symptoms

    Poisons can cause a wide range of symptoms including:

    • Unconsciousness;
    • Nausea;
    • Vomiting;
    • Burning pain in the mouth or throat;
    • Headache;
    • Blurred vision;
    • Seizures;
    • Difficulty breathing;
    • Respiratory arrest; and
    • Cardiac arrest.

    Recognition of poisoning may be obvious from the circumstances of the incident, but this is not always true. A person may complain of physical symptoms without realising these are due to a poison. Alternatively, they may exhibit abnormal behaviour, which may be misinterpreted as alcoholic confusion or psychiatric disturbance.

    It is important to seek medical assessment or advice after significant exposure to a poison, even if symptoms are initially mild or absent.


    The principles of managing a patient who has been poisoned are:

    • Prevention of poisoning of the rescuer.
    • Decontamination of the patient.
    • Resuscitation and supportive care, using the Basic Life Support Flowchart

     If the poison is SWALLOWED:

    • Give the person who has swallowed the poison a sip of water to wash out their mouth.
    • DO NOT try to make them vomit

    If the poison is INHALED:

    • Immediately get the person to fresh air, without placing yourself at risk.
    • Avoid breathing fumes.
    • If it is safe to do so, open doors and windows wide.

     If the poison enters the EYE:

    • Flood the eye with saline or cold water from a running tap or a cup/jug.
    • Continue to flush for 15 minutes, holding the eyelids open.

     If the poison contacts the SKIN:

    • Remove contaminated clothing, taking care to avoid contact with the poison.
    • Flood skin with running cold water.
    • Wash gently with soap and water and rinse well.

    Poisons Information Centre

    Call this number if you think someone has taken an overdose, made an error with medicine or been poisoned. You can call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from anywhere in Australia.

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