If a person swallows or inhales (breathes in) a poisonous substance they could get seriously ill or die. They may need help until an ambulance arrives.

Quick help 

  • Call 111 for an ambulance if the person has difficulty breathing, is in severe pain, or is passing out.
  • If you are concerned, see a doctor.
  • If you are uncertain, call Healthline on 0800 611 116.


What to look for 

Nausea or vomiting: The person feels sick or is being sick. 

Abdominal pain: The person has stomach ache and/or diarrhoea. 

Passing out: The person is unresponsive, or becoming unresponsive (but breathing normally). 

Seizures: They may twitch and jerk uncontrollably, like they’re having a fit. 

Difficulty breathing: The person struggles for air when they try to breathe or speak. 

Changed behaviour: They might be aggressive or hallucinating (imagining things). 

How you can help

General care for poisoning 

  • Check for danger to you and the person. If it’s necessary (and safe) move the person to a safer place.
  • Take note of anything nearby that may have caused the poisoning, e.g., tablets, empty containers, berries, or chemicals.
  • If the person is conscious, and they have burns around their mouth from something they ate or drank, wash their mouth out with water.
  • If the person is conscious, you should confirm that they are happy for you to touch them before you give first aid. If the person is unconscious and you need to check for injuries or give lifesaving first aid, then don’t delay.

If the person is unresponsive and breathing normally, turn them onto their side with their mouth tilted slightly towards the ground and their head tilted back so that their chin is away from their chest. Call 111 for an ambulance. 

If the person is unresponsive and not breathing normally, call 111 for an ambulance and start CPR.


Inhaled poisons - Things like car exhaust fumes, gas, or chemicals

  • Move the person into fresh air if it’s safe to do so.
  • Check whether they are conscious or unresponsive, and offer the same care as for poisoning.
  • Everyone who might have breathed in poisonous fumes should see a doctor, in case of lung damage.

Dishwasher powder or tablets

If a person swallows dishwashing powder it is an emergency. Call 111 immediately. 

Button batteries 

  • These can cause serious burns in a person’s throat or inside their body.
  • If you think a person has swallowed a button battery they must see a doctor or go to a medical centre which can do x-rays as soon as possible.


If you have a person in urgent need of medical attention, call 111 now.  


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