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Food Poisoning

Food Poisoning

A poison if gains entry into the body, can cause damage: this may be for a short period or may be permanent. Poisons can be taken into the body by a wide variety of routes.

Poisons find their way into the body by being swallowed, inhaled, absorbed or injected.

The effects can vary greatly depending on the poison involved. Most commonly, poisoning occurs accidentally and involves ordinary substances that are found in and around the house.

Poisoning can also be due to misuse of drugs, over-indulgence in alcohol or by eating food that is somehow contaminated.

Danger to the first aider

Particularly in cases of poisoning due to inhalation or absorption, the first aider must take every care not to become contaminated. On occasions it is necessary for the first aider to await professional rescue services rather than attempting a rescue independently.

Situations requiring special caution are those involving fumes, e.g. car exhaust fumes in a confined area, spillage of a chemical in a laboratory or when a container is leaking either fumes and/or fluid, e.g. from a tanker lorry involved in a road traffic accident. Remain upwind of the spillage and ensure that all bystanders do likewise.

Household poisons

Many common substances found in and around the house are poisonous. Hospital accident and emergency departments are only too familiar with young children being brought in after drinking disinfectant or other household chemicals. Certain substances, if split on to the skin (or splashed into the eye), can cause chemical burns to the skin.

Simple precautions around the home will greatly reduce the risk to children gaining access to household poisons:

Fit the relevant cupboards with childproof locks Store medicines out of the child’s reach (remember they can drag chairs on which to climb).
Do not store household solutions in old squash bottles; the child may help him/herself to ’drink’.

Industrial poisons

Within the workplace many poisonous substances are in common use. Those industries that use potentially hazardous substances are required by legislation to provide notices that explain emergency action to be taken in case of an accident. In some cases, special first aid and medical facilities are required to be available; this will often include a specially trained rescue team.

Poisons that are swallowed

  • Do not try to make the casualty vomit.
  • If the casualty is unconscious check whether Resuscitation should be given and act accordingly.
  • If resuscitation is necessary, ensure that you are not contaminated by the poison -use a plastic face shield if available.
  • Call for an ambulance.
  • Remember to send the container with the casualty to hospital.

Inhaled poisons

  • If it is safe to do so, remove the casualty to fresh air.
  • If a specially trained rescue team is on site, always let them rescue the casualty. If this facility is not available and you consider the area unsafe to enter, await
  • The arrival of the professional rescue service.
  • If the casualty is unconscious, check whether Resuscitation should be given and act accordingly.
  • Call for an ambulance.

Poisons on the skin

  • If protective garments, e.g. gloves and/or smocks, are available, always put them on before going to the casualty.
  • Flush away the chemical from the skin with copious amounts of water,using a hose or running water from a tap or shower.
  • Ensure that the chemical in the water does not further contaminate you or the casualty.
  • Call for an ambulance.
  • Special hazards in industry
  • Where special hazards occur, always ensure that you are fully conversant with the instructions for emergency action and that in the event of an accident you - and others-comply with the instructions under all circumstances.

Poisonous plants

  • Children are the most common victims of poisonous plants, being easily attracted to the bright berries.
  • If the casualty is unconscious, check the ABC of Resuscitation and act appropriately.
  • Do not try to make the casualty vomit.
  • Call for an ambulance.
  • Try to identify the plant involved; ensure a sample is sent with the casualty to hospital.

Alcohol poisoning

  • Alcohol affects the central nervous system and thus the whole body in various ways.
  • It is a depressant and causes a dulling of the senses, deterioration in overall coordination and an altered level of consciousness.
  • Because of the effects of alcohol, the casualty who is severely impaired is at very great risk.
  • Risks of alcohol Poisoning An unconscious casualty may vomit and choke on his/her own vomit.
  • Hypothermia has an earlier onset if the casualty collapses in a cold place.
  • Other injury or illness may not be recognised, e.g.head injury, diabetes, epilepsy.

You may notice

  • A smell of alcohol.
  • The casualty, if unconscious, may be easily roused but will quickly relapse into unconsciousness.
  • Flushed face.
  • Deep, often noisy, breathing.
  • Full, bounding pulse.
  • In the later stages you may notice
  • Shallow breathing.
  • Wide, dilated pupils.
  • Weak, rapid pulse.


  • If the casualty in unconscious, check the ABC of resuscitation and act appropriately.
  • Even if conscious, place the casualty, for continuing safety, in the recovery position or at least on his/her side with a bolster down the back.
  • This prevents the casualty rolling on the back and the risk of choking on his/her own vomit.
  • Ensure that the casualty is kept warm, placing a blanket (or similar) underneath as well as on top.
  • If you have any cause for concern regarding the casualty’s condition, call for an ambulance.
  • Drug poisoning

  • Drug poisoning can occur as a result of an accident or following a deliberate overdose.
  • Any drug, no matter how common, and easily available, is potentially a poison and must always be taken in accordance with the directions on the packaging.
  • This will include the dosage, frequency of use and incompatibility with other substances- which almost invariably include alcohol.


  • If the casualty is unconscious, check the ABC of resuscitation.
  • Do not try to make the casualty vomit.
  • Call for an ambulance.
  • Send any empty containers (including alcohol) with the casualty to hospital.

Food Poisoning

  • Poor food storage or handling may lead to food poisoning. Symptoms may be delayed for up to a day or so.
  • You may notice
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Abdominal cramps and diarrhoea.
  • Weakness and even collapse.


  • Encourage the casualty to lie down and provide a bowl in case of vomiting.
  • Seek medical advice.


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