Introduction 

Poisoning is when a person is exposed to a substance that can damage their health or put their life in danger.

Poisoning is a common health problem, resulting in around 120,000 hospital admissions each year in England. Most cases of poisoning happen at home and children under five have the highest risk of accidental poisoning.

In around one in four reported cases, the person intentionally poisoned themselves as an act of suicide.

Signs and symptoms of poisoning

The symptoms of poisoning will depend on the type of poison and the amount taken in, but general things to look out for include:

  • vomiting
  • stomach pains
  • high temperature
  • drowsiness and fainting fits

If a child suddenly develops such symptoms, they may have been poisoned, especially if they are drowsy and confused. 

Read more about the symptoms of poisoning.

What to do

If you suspect that someone has taken an overdose or has been poisoned do not try to treat them yourself. Get medical help immediately.

If they do not appear to be seriously ill then call NHS 111 for advice.

If they are showing signs of being seriously ill, such as vomiting, loss of consciousness, drowsiness or seizures (fits), call 999 for an ambulance or take the person to your local A&E department.

In serious cases, it may be necessary for the person to stay in hospital for treatment. Most people admitted to hospital because of poisoning will survive.

Read more about what to do if you think someone has been poisoned.

Types of poisons

Poisons can be swallowed, absorbed through the skin, inhaled, splashed into the eyes, or injected.

In the UK, the most common way a person is poisoned is by taking an overdose of medication. This can include both over-the-counter medications such as paracetamol and prescription medications such as antidepressants.

Other potential poisons include:

  • household products such as bleach
  • cosmetic items such as nail polish
  • some types of plants and fungi
  • certain types of chemicals and pesticides
  • carbon monoxide
  • poorly prepared or cooked food, and food that has gone mouldy or been contaminated with bacteria from raw meat (food poisoning)
  • alcohol, if an excessive amount is consumed in a short period (alcohol poisoning)
  • insect stings
  • snake bites

Read more about the causes of poisoning.

Preventing poisoning

There are several steps you can take to reduce your or your child’s risk of poisoning.

These include carefully reading the patient information leaflet that comes with your medication and making sure any poisonous substances are locked away out of the sight and reach of your children.

Read more about preventing poisoning.




Plant dangers in the garden and countryside

Keep your family safe with this guide to plant hazards, and find out what to do if someone is affected

Page last reviewed: 23/08/2013

Next review due: 23/08/2015