Poihana matū Chemical poisoning

Poisoning means exposure to a substance that is harmful to your body. Poisons can be swallowed, inhaled, absorbed through your skin, or injected under your skin. Nearly all poisonings are accidental.

If someone has swallowed a chemical or poison

Before helping someone, it is important to protect yourself from any chemicals or poisons so you do not become a victim.

If someone has swallowed a chemical or poison, contact the Poison Information Service immediately. The Poison Information Service is free and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Phone 0800 764 766 (0800 POISON) or seek medical advice from another health professional.

Phone 111 and ask for an ambulance if:

  • the person is unconscious or having difficulty breathing
  • you are worried that the person looks very ill 
  • the Poisons Information Service has told you to.

How to tell if someone has been exposed to a poisonous chemical

If someone has been exposed to a poisonous chemical:

  • there may be a chemical smell
  • they may have burning or redness around their mouth and lips
  • they may be having difficulty breathing
  • they may be vomiting (and there may be blood in their vomit)
  • they may be confused
  • they may be semi-conscious or unconscious.

Helping someone who has swallowed a poisonous chemical

  • Stay calm and reassure the person.
  • Find out what they have taken — either ask them or find the container.
  • Remove anything that might still be in their mouth (wipe or rinse their mouth).
  • Do not make them throw up unless the Poison Information Service or a healthcare professional tells you to.
  • Phone the Poison Information Service on 0800 764 766 (0800 POISON) and ask for advice.
  • If advised, call an ambulance on 111 — make sure you give the poison container to the ambulance team.
  • Do not give them anything to eat or drink unless advised to do so by the Poison Information Service.

If someone is unconscious but breathing, the HealthInfo website has information on what to do.

Unconscious but breathing — HealthInfo (external link)

Helping someone who has breathed in a chemical or poison

  • Move the person quickly from where the gas or fumes are to an area with fresh air. If the gas is very toxic or you do not know what it is, do not try to rescue the person as you may become a victim yourself.
  • Seek medical help immediately.

If someone is unconscious but breathing, the HealthInfo website has information on what to do.

Unconscious but breathing — HealthInfo(external link) (external link)

Helping someone with chemicals or poison on their skin

  • Remove any contaminated clothing using gloves.
  • Rinse the exposed area with lots of water.
  • Seek medical attention if their skin is damaged.

Helping someone who has chemicals in their eyes

Ask the person what has happened. If they have spilled or splashed chemicals into their eyes, they will experience one or more of the following:

  • pain
  • red eye or eyes
  • irritated eye or eyes
  • watering eye or eyes
  • blurred vision.

To help them:

  • Wash their hands to remove any chemicals.
  • Take out any contact lenses if they do not wash out when rinsing.
  • Tilt their head to one side, holding their eyelids open.
  • Run gently running water into their eyes for at least 15 minutes. Use clean room temperature water from a tap or low-pressure hose. Take care not to wash the chemicals from one eye into the other.
Phone 111 immediately and ask for an ambulance if the chemical is causing burning or stinging in the person's eyes. Give the chemical container to the ambulance team when they arrive.

Clinical review

This content was written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. It has been adapted for Health Information and Services.

Clinical advisers — HealthInfo (external link)