Being poisoned can be life-threatening. If someone has been poisoned, do not try to treat them yourself – seek medical help immediately.

If they're showing signs of being seriously ill, dial 999 to request an ambulance or take them to your local A&E department.

Symptoms associated with serious poisoning include:

Call NHS 111 for advice if a person who's been poisoned does not appear to be seriously ill.

Helping someone who's conscious

If you think someone has been severely poisoned and they're still conscious, ask them to sit still and stay with them while you wait for medical help to arrive.

If they've been poisoned by swallowing something, try to get them to spit out anything that is remaining in their mouth.

If a harmful substance has splashed onto their skin or clothes, remove any contaminated items and wash the affected area thoroughly with warm or cool water. Be careful not to contaminate yourself in the process.

Helping someone who is unconscious

If you think someone has swallowed poison and they appear to be unconscious, try to wake them and encourage them to spit out anything left in their mouth. Do not put your hand into their mouth and do not try to make them sick.

While you're waiting for medical help to arrive, lie the person on their side with a cushion behind their back and their upper leg pulled slightly forward, so they do not fall on their face or roll backwards. This is known as the recovery position.

Wipe any vomit away from their mouth and keep their head pointing down, to allow any vomit to escape without them breathing it in or swallowing it. Do not give them anything to eat or drink.

If the person is not breathing or their heart has stopped, begin CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) if you know how to.

Poisonous fumes

If you think someone has inhaled poisonous fumes, assess the situation first and do not put yourself in danger.

If the person is conscious, encourage them to make their way out of the contaminated area, if at all possible. Once they're out into fresh air, check to see if they're OK and call 999 if they have signs of serious poisoning.

Dial 999 to request an ambulance if the person is unconscious or unable to get out of the affected area. Do not enter any enclosed areas to remove the person yourself because toxic gases and fumes can be very dangerous if inhaled.

How to help medical staff

Medical staff will need to take a detailed history to effectively treat a person who's been poisoned. When the paramedics arrive or when you arrive at A&E, give them as much information as you can, including:

Give details of any symptoms the person has had, such as whether they've been sick.

Medical staff may also want to know:

The container the substance came in will help give medical staff a clear idea of what it is. If you do not know what caused the poisoning, blood tests may be needed to identify the cause.

Hospital treatment

Some people who have swallowed a poisonous substance or overdosed on medicine will be admitted to hospital for examination and treatment.

Possible treatments that can be used to treat poisoning include:

Tests and investigations

Investigations may include blood tests and an electrocardiogram (ECG).

A blood test can be used to check the levels of chemicals and glucose in the blood. They may be used to perform a toxicology screen (tests to find out how many drugs or how much medicine a person has taken), and a liver function test, which indicates how damaged the liver is.

There is more information about liver function tests on the Lab Tests Online UK website.

An ECG is an electrical recording of the heart to check that it's functioning properly.

Further information

For more information about treating specific types of poisoning see:

Deliberate poisoning

If you or someone you know has poisoned themselves as an act of deliberate self-harm or an attempt at suicide, psychiatric help may be necessary.

Read more about getting help for self-harm and getting help if you're feeling suicidal.

Page last reviewed: 10 September 2021
Next review due: 10 September 2024