Poisons and Food Poisoning

A poison which is also called a toxin, is defined as a substance which, if taken into the body in sufficient quantity, may cause temporary or permanent damage.

Poisons are not only swallowed or in food, they are also absorbed through the skin, inhaled, splashed into the eyes, or injected into the body. Once the toxin is in the body, it can get into the bloodstream and be carried quickly to any of the bodies organs and tissues. The speed and way that a poison affects the person will vary depending on the person, type of poison, method of poisoning, speed of intake and the amount of the intake.

Swallowed poisons like chemicals, may also harm the digestive tract, or cause more widespread damage like burning damaging, swelling and blistering. This is in addition to the damage they do as they enter the bloodstream or transported to other parts of the body.

These chemicals include many common household chemicals used in cleaning such as detergents and bleaches.

Drugs are included in chemical poisons, these can be in any form whether prescription, over the counter or illegal drugs. The effects of poisoning depend on the substance that has been swallowed.

Signs and symptoms of poisoning will depends on the types of poison, but may include:

  • Vomiting, sometimes bloodstained
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhoea
  • Impaired consciousness
  • Pain or burning sensation
  • Empty containers in the vicinity
  • A recent history of ingestion or exposure.

The treatment is first to identify what they have taken, ask them what they have swallowed

  • Try to reassure them
  • Dial 999 for an ambulance
  • Give as much information as possible about the swallowed poison. This information will assist doctors to give appropriate treatment once the casualty reaches hospital.

If the casualty becomes unconscious:

  • Open the airway with the head tilt chin lift and check for breathing
  • Be prepared to give chest compressions and rescue breaths if necessary, but if the patient has been in contact with chemicals, use a face mask or shield to avoid getting the chemical on your mouth
  • Place them into the recovery position if the casualty is unconscious but breathing normally

DO NOT induce vomiting as this can cause more damage as the vomit, and the chemical, then cover the whole respiratory tract, mouth and inside the nose causing respiratory problems.

Food poisoning is usually caused by eating food or drink that is contaminated with bacteria or viruses and can develop within hours or may be a day after eating the contaminated food. Some food poisoning is caused by poisons from bacteria already in the food. The salmonella or E. coli group of bacteria, which are found mainly in meat, are common causes of food poisoning. The staphylococcus group of bacteria can cause toxic food poisoning within two to six hours of eating the contaminated food.

One serious problem with food poisoning is dehydration. This is because body fluids are lost and not replaced quickly enough. This is especially serious in the young and old or in hot climates. In serious cases, this has to be treated in hospital.

Signs and symptoms of food poisoning include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Cramping abdominal pains
  • Diarrhoea which may be possibly bloodstained
  • Headache or fever
  • Signs of shock
  • Impaired consciousness.

Treatment is to encourage the patient to rest and give them plenty of fluids. The use of rehydration powders mixed with water can also help. You may need to seek medical assistance if needed and sometimes food poisoning will result in hospitalisation.

Finally, if someone has had food poisoning, you also ned to ensure that no one else is affected and in some cases, it would need to be reported to the authorities or employers.

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