First aid: How to deal with swallowed substances

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Anyone is at risk for swallowed substances which includes powders, liquids and some solid items such as medications. The usual household and garden products are often ingested unintentionally. Most of these are low in toxicity upon ingestion and not likely to trigger any significant harm. If in doubt and worried about the potential for poisoning, it is best to get in touch with poison control so that proper measures can be carried out.

Common swallowed substances

  • Bleach
  • Cleaning agents
  • Ink
  • Paints or paint cleaning products
    Swallowed substances
    Once you suspect that an individual overdosed or has been poisoned, do not attempt to treat him/her. Seek immediate medical care right away.
  • Cosmetics
  • Medications
  • Air fresheners or aromatherapy oils

Proper storage of medications

  • Keep medications in its original packaging since this will include the ingredients, dosage and expiry date.
  • A medication cabinet is an ideal place to store medications. It should be high enough from the ground that could not be accessed by children. Generally, it must be at least 150 cm off the ground with a safety lock.
  • Medications that are no longer used or out of date should be disposed of properly.

Once you suspect that an individual overdosed or has been poisoned, do not attempt to treat him/her. Seek immediate medical care right away. If the individual has signs of being seriously sick from swallowed substances such as drowsiness, vomiting, seizures or loses consciousness, call for emergency assistance or bring the individual to the nearest emergency department.


Swallowed substances can occur in both children and adults. If an individual ingested something from a container or packet, check the label of the substance. Carefully follow the instructions on what to do if it is swallowed.

If it is advised to go to the nearest emergency department, bring the original bottle and packaging so that it can be identified.

If the swallowed substance might be dangerous or you are uncertain what was swallowed, call poison control or call for emergency assistance. While waiting for the emergency team to arrive, the following can be done:

  • Provide the individual with a small sip of water
  • Do not provide anything to eat or drink unless instructed to do so on the packaging instructions
  • Do not induce vomiting since this can cause choking or obstruct the airway

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