A poison is a substance that causes injury, illness or death if it enters the body. Poisons may enter the body in the form of liquids, solids, or gas and vapour fumes.

Poisons can enter via:

  • the mouth and digestive system
  • fumes through the lungs
  • absorption of a chemical through the skin

Symptoms and signs – Not all may be present

  • nausea or vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • abdominal pain
  • unconsciousness or deteriorating conscious state
  • seizures
  • breathing difficulty
  • altered or changed behaviour – e.g. hallucination, aggression

How you can help

1.    Check for dangers before approaching the patient

  • Ensure safety for yourself, the patient, and any others before approaching to give first aid. If safe and necessary, remove the patient to a safer area. 
  • Note any information about the nature of the poisoning incident – e.g. tablets, berries, burns around the mouth, etc. 

2.    Check the patient’s level of consciousness


  • If unresponsive and breathing normally turn them onto their side in a supported position and open and clear their airway. Call 111 for an ambulance.
  • If the person is unresponsive and not breathing normally call 111 for an ambulance and start CPR.

If conscious:

  • If the mouth has burns from a corrosive poison, wash the poison out as best you can with water.

3.    Call 111 for an ambulance

  • Call 111 for an ambulance if the person has difficulty breathing, severe pain or an altered level of consciousness.
  • See a doctor if you are concerned.
  • Call Healthline on 0800 611 116 if you are uncertain.
  • Follow all instructions concerning medical advice or ambulance transport to hospital.

Special poisoning situations

Inhaled poisons

1.    Check for safety before approaching the patient

  • If poisonous fumes are present in a confined space the patient needs to be moved into fresh air as soon as possible. The first aider may need to enter the space if the patient is unconscious and must be dragged to safety. However, the first aider should take no undue risks.
  • When it is safe to do so, check the patient’s level of consciousness and give general care for poisoning.

When moved into fresh air the patient may recover rapidly from inhaled gases or fumes.

However, some toxic chemicals can cause serious problems once inhaled into the lungs and medical assessment and treatment are required.

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