British Columbia Specific Information
If you are concerned about a possible poisoning or exposure to a toxic substance, call Poison Control immediately at 1-800-567-8911 toll-free in B.C. or 604-682-5050 in Greater Vancouver. Visit British Columbia Drug and Poison Information Centre for additional information and prevention tips.
Top of the page Check Your Symptoms
A poison is a substance that has toxic effects and may injure you or make you sick if you are exposed to it. Poisons can be found everywhere, from simple household cleaners to cosmetics to houseplants to industrial chemicals. Even medicines that are taken in the wrong dose, at the wrong time, or by the wrong person can cause a toxic effect. Poisonous substances can hurt you if they are swallowed, inhaled, spilled on your skin, or splashed in your eyes. In most cases, any product that gives off fumes or is an aerosol that can be inhaled should be considered a possible poison. More than 90% of poisonings occur in the home.
Young children have the highest risk of poisoning because of their natural curiosity. More than half of poisonings in children occur in those who are younger than age 6. Some children will swallow just about anything, including unappetizing substances that are poisonous. When in doubt, assume the worst. Always believe a child or a witness, such as another child or a brother or sister, who reports that poison has been swallowed. Many poisonings occur when an adult who is using a poisonous product around children becomes distracted by the doorbell, a telephone, or some other interruption.
Young children are also at high risk for accidental poisoning from non-prescription and prescription medicines. Even though medicine bottles are packaged to prevent a child from opening them, be sure to keep all medicines away from where children can reach them.
Teenagers also have an increased risk of poisonings, both accidental and intentional, because of their risk-taking behaviour. Some teens experiment with poisonous substances such as by sniffing toxic glues or inhaling aerosol substances to get "high." About half of all poisonings in teens are classified as suicide attempts, which always requires medical evaluation.
Adults—especially older adults—are at risk for accidental and intentional poisonings from:
- Alcohol and illegal drugs. For more information, see the topic Alcohol and Drug Problems.
- Gas leaks, such as exhaust leaks from heaters and stoves and automobile exhaust. For more information, see the topic Carbon Monoxide Poisoning.
- Medicines, such as acetaminophen, antibiotics, cough and cold remedies, vitamins, pain relievers, sleeping pills, and tranquilizers.
- Household cleaning supplies and other substances, such as cosmetics, antifreeze, windshield cleaner, gardening products, and paint thinners.
- Herbal products.
Symptoms of poisonings
The symptoms of a suspected poisoning may vary depending on the person's age, the type of poisonous substance, the amount of poison involved, and how much time has passed since the poisoning occurred. Some common symptoms that might point to a poisoning include:
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Throat pain.
- Sudden sleepiness, confusion, or decreased alertness.
- Anxiousness, nervousness, irritability, or tremors.
- Substance residue or burn around the mouth, teeth, eyes, or on the skin.
- Trouble breathing.
Poison control centres, hospitals, or your doctor can give immediate advice in the case of a poisoning. Have the poison container with you so you can give complete information to the poison control centre, such as what the poison or substance is, how much was taken and when. Do not try to make the person vomit.
Check Your Symptoms
Seek Care Now
Based on your answers, you may need care right away.
- Call the local poison control centre now, before you do anything else. The poison control centre will tell you exactly what to do.
- If possible, have the poison's container with you when you call. The information on the container may be helpful to the poison control centre.
- If you cannot reach a poison control centre by phone, go to the nearest emergency room.
Call 911 Now
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
Symptoms of difficulty breathing can range from mild to severe. For example:
- You may feel a little out of breath but still be able to talk (mild difficulty breathing), or you may be so out of breath that you cannot talk at all (severe difficulty breathing).
- It may be getting hard to breathe with activity (mild difficulty breathing), or you may have to work very hard to breathe even when you’re at rest (severe difficulty breathing).
Shock Symptoms, Adult or Older Child
Shock is a life-threatening condition that may quickly occur after a sudden illness or injury.
Symptoms of shock (most of which will be present) include:
- Passing out.
- Feeling very dizzy or light-headed, like you may pass out.
- Feeling very weak or having trouble standing.
- Not feeling alert or able to think clearly. You may be confused, restless, fearful, or unable to respond to questions.
Shock Symptoms, Baby or Young Child
Shock is a life-threatening condition that may occur quickly after a sudden illness or injury.
Symptoms of shock in a child may include:
- Passing out.
- Being very sleepy or hard to wake up.
- Not responding when being touched or talked to.
- Breathing much faster than usual.
- Acting confused. The child may not know where he or she is.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
- Your age. Babies and older adults tend to get sicker quicker.
- Your overall health. If you have a condition such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, or heart disease, you may need to pay closer attention to certain symptoms and seek care sooner.
- Medicines you take. Certain medicines and natural health products can cause symptoms or make them worse.
- Recent health events, such as surgery or injury. These kinds of events can cause symptoms afterwards or make them more serious.
- Your health habits and lifestyle, such as eating and exercise habits, smoking, alcohol or drug use, sexual history, and travel.
Seek Care Today
Call the local poison control centre or your doctor today for more information.
Poisoning and Behaviour Changes
Changes in behaviour that can be caused by poisoning can include:
- Becoming increasingly sleepy and having trouble staying awake.
- Feeling restless, edgy, and angry for no reason.
- Feeling confused and not thinking clearly.
- Feeling very anxious or afraid for no reason.
Try Home Treatment
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
- Try home treatment to relieve the symptoms.
- Call your doctor if symptoms get worse or you have any concerns (for example, if symptoms are not getting better as you would expect). You may need care sooner.
First aid home treatment measures for suspected poisoning
Call your local poison control centre, hospital, or doctor immediately. Have the poison container with you so you can give complete information to the poison control centre. Do not try to make the person vomit.
The poison control centre will be able to help you quickly if you have the following information ready:
- Your name and phone number
- The name, age, weight, and health status of the person who has been poisoned
- Type of product. Read the brand name as it is written on the label. Include the list of ingredients and the company name and contact number, if it is available on the label.
- Amount of product involved in poisoning
- Type of poison exposure—swallowed, inhaled, or in contact with the eyes or skin
- Time of poisoning
- Whether the person vomited
- Any first aid measures taken
- Your location and how far you are from an emergency medical facility
If the poison control centre recommends medical evaluation, take the product container or substance and any stomach contents that the person vomited to help doctors determine the seriousness of the poisoning.
Do not use syrup of ipecac. It is no longer used to treat poisonings. If you have syrup of ipecac in your home, call your pharmacist for instructions on how to dispose of it and throw away the container. Do not store anything else in the container.
Activated charcoal is also not used at home to treat poisonings.
The poison control centre has guidelines on what treatments are needed for all types of poisons.
If a poisoning was intentional, first get help as described above. Then check your local phone book or provincial website for suicide resources on getting help in your area.
Symptoms to watch for during home treatment
Follow the instructions you received from your doctor or the poison control centre about seeking medical evaluation. Call your doctor if any of the following occurs during home treatment:
- New symptoms develop.
- Symptoms do not go away as expected.
- Symptoms become more severe or more frequent.
About 80% of poisonings occur in children ages 1 to 4 years. Develop poison prevention habits early, before your child is crawling. Babies grow so fast that sometimes they are crawling and walking before you have time to protect them.
- Never leave a poisonous product unattended around children, even for a moment. Many poisonings occur when an adult who is using a poisonous product becomes distracted by the doorbell, a telephone, or some other interruption.
- Be aware of common substances that are poisonous, such as houseplants and cosmetics.
- Use childproof latches on your cupboards.
- Keep products in their original containers. Never store poisonous products in food containers.
- Never leave alcohol within sight or reach of a child.
- Read product labels for caution statements, how to use the product correctly, and first aid instructions.
- Keep the number of your local poison control centre near your phone.
- Do not keep poisons such as drain cleaner, oven cleaner, or plant food under your kitchen sink. Keep them out of the sight and reach of children. Dishwasher detergent is especially dangerous.
- Have your home tested for levels of lead if any older leaded paints may still be present. For more information, see the topic Lead Poisoning.
- Some house or garden plants and the chemicals used to care for them (such as fertilizers) can be poisonous if ingested. Be sure to teach your children not to play with them.
- Keep alcohol out of the sight and reach of children.
- Educate your children about the effects of alcohol and medicines. Encourage your teenager to avoid alcohol and drugs.
- Provide nonalcoholic beverages at parties and meals. Don't give your children the impression that adults need to drink alcohol in order to have a good time.
- Put all medicines and vitamins out of the sight and reach of children. Acetaminophen, such as Tylenol, is a common source of childhood poisoning.
- Never call medicines "candy."
- Keep medicines in their original labelled containers.
- Buy non-prescription medicines in child-resistant packages.
- Try to take medicines out of the sight of children.
- Check the label on the bottle each time you take a medicine to make sure you're taking the correct one.
- Check the expiration dates on medicines. If your medicines are expired or no longer needed, call your pharmacist for instructions on how to dispose of them.
Preparing For Your Appointment
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your doctor treat poisoning by being prepared to answer the following questions. Be sure to bring the poisonous substance with you.
- What substance do you suspect was involved?
- When did the poisoning occur?
- Was the substance swallowed, inhaled, spilled on the skin, or splashed in the eyes?
- Have you ever been treated for a poisoning in the past? What was the substance? How long ago? How was the poisoning treated?
- How much of the substance was involved?
- What symptoms are present?
- How long have symptoms been present?
- Have you called a poison control centre? What advice did they give? Did it work?
- What home treatment measures have been tried?
- Have any non-prescription medicines been taken? What effect did they have?
- What prescription and non-prescription medicines do you take?
- Were alcohol or drugs involved in the poisoning?
- Do you have any health risks?
Other Places To Get Help
Many of the resources below provide help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in multiple languages. In an emergency, call 911.
- To find a suicide prevention crisis centre phone number or website in your province, visit the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention Crisis Centre's webpage at www.suicideprevention.ca/thinking-about-suicide.
- To find a rape crisis or women's centre phone number or website in your province, visit the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres' webpage at www.casac.ca/content/anti-violence-centres.
- Kids and teens can call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 (toll-free 24/7) org.kidshelpphone.ca/en.
- Provincial Health Information Line. HEALTHLink Alberta. Call 1-866-408-5465 (toll-free 24/7) or visit https://myhealth.alberta.ca.
- Family Violence Info Line. Call 310-1818 (toll-free 24/7) or visit http://humanservices.alberta.ca/abuse-bullying.html.
- Child Abuse Hotline. Call 1-800-387-5437 (toll-free (24/7) or visit http://humanservices.alberta.ca/abuse-bullying.html.
- Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton (SACE). Call 780-423-4121 (24/7) or visit www.sace.ab.ca.
- Bully Free Alberta. Call 1-888-456-2323 (toll-free (24/7) or visit www.bullyfreealberta.ca.
- Mental Health Help Line. Call 1-877-303-2642 (toll-free 24/7) or visit https://myhealth.alberta.ca/pages/emergency-phone-numbers.aspx.
- Addiction Services Helpline. Call 1-866-332-2322 (toll-free 24/7) or visit https://myhealth.alberta.ca/Pages/Emergency-Phone-Numbers.aspx.
- Provincial Health Information Line. HealthLinkBC. Call 8-1-1 (toll-free 24/7) or visit www.healthlinkbc.ca.
- Domestic Violence Helpline. Call 1-800-563-0808 (toll-free 24/7) or visit www.domesticviolencebc.ca.
- VictimLink BC. Call 1-800-563-0808 (toll-free 24/7) or visit www.victimlinkbc.ca.
- Child Abuse Prevention Website: Helpline. Call 310-1234 (toll-free) or visit www.safekidsbc.ca/helpline.htm.
- BC Mental Health and Addiction Services. Visit www.bcmhas.ca.
- Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of British Columbia. Call 1-800-784-2433 (toll-free 24/7) or visit www.crisiscentre.bc.ca.
- Provincial Health Information Line. Tele-Care 811: Call 8-1-1 (toll free 24/7) or visit www.gnb.ca/0217/Tele-Care-e.asp.
- Emergency Social Services. During regular office hours (Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.), visit www2.gnb.ca/content/gnb/en/departments/social_development/about_us/emergency_socialservices.html to find the number for the office nearest you. After hours, call 1-800-442-9799 (toll-free).
- Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Centre. Call (506) 454-0437 (24/7) or visit www.fsacc.ca/content/45357#.
- CHIMO Helpline. Call 1-800-667-5005 (24/7) or visit www.gnb.ca/0055/index-e.asp.
- Provincial Health Information Line. Telehealth Ontario: Call 1-866-797-0000 (toll-free 24/7) or visit www.health.gov.on.ca/en/public/programs/telehealth.
- Assaulted Women's Helpline. Call 1-866-863-0511 (toll-free 24/7) or visit www.awhl.org.
- Distress Centres Ontario. Visit www.dcontario.org/help.html to find the phone number for a crisis line in your calling area.
- Drug and Alcohol Helpline. Call 1-800-565-8603 (toll-free 24/7) or visit www.drugandalcoholhelpline.ca.
- Mental Health Helpline. Call 1-866-531-2600 (toll-free 24/7) or visit www.mentalhealthhelpline.ca.
- Provincial Health Information Line. HealthLine. Call 811 or visit www.health.gov.sk.ca/healthline.
- Family Violence Outreach. Go to www.justice.gov.sk.ca/FVO for a list of community-based organizations and their contact information, or visit www.justice.gov.sk.ca/IVAP.
- Child Protection. Go to www.socialservices.gov.sk.ca/child-protection.pdf for a list of local child protection offices and their contact information, or visit www.socialservices.gov.sk.ca/child-protection.
- Mental Health and Addictions. Go to www.health.gov.sk.ca/treatment-services-directory for a list of local alcohol and drug treatment services and their contact information.
- Provincial Health Information Line. Yukon HealthLine: Call 811 or visit www.hss.gov.yk.ca/811.php. If you are calling from a satellite phone, you can dial 1-604-215-4700 to reach the Health Services Representative at HealthLink BC.
- Family and Children's Services. Call 1-867-667-3002 or visit www.hss.gov.yk.ca/family_children.php.
- Victim Services. Call 1-800-563-0808 (toll-free). Or visit the Department of Justice "Need Help? Phone Directory" at www.justice.gov.yk.ca/prog/cor/vs/phonedir.html.
- Alcohol and Drug Services. Call 1-855-667-5777 ext. 5777 during business hours or 1-855-667-5777ext. 8473 after hours or visit www.hss.gov.yk.ca/ads.php.
Check your local phone book or provincial or territorial website.
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Current as ofMay 22, 2015
Current as of: May 22, 2015
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Is it an emergency?
If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be life-threatening. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately. If you are concerned about a possible poisoning or exposure to a toxic substance, call Poison Control now at 1-800-567-8911.