Voluntary or involuntary act: how to react properly in the event of poisoning?

Voluntary or involuntary act: how to react properly in the event of poisoning?

Poisoning is often associated with the ingestion of a toxic product. But this can also occur in the event of simple inhalation of toxic vapors or direct contact with the skin or eyes (this is then called “absorption”). Whatever its form, poisoning can have serious consequences, especially when it occurs in a child. Knowing the right actions and reflexes allows you to take care of the victim in time. The details with Dr Laure Martinat, anesthesiologist-resuscitator.

What are we talking about when we talk about poisoning?

The term “poisoning” refers to the fact of ingesting a poison, that is to say a toxic substance and therefore harmful to the body. “In medicine, we talk more about intoxication”, specifies Dr Laure Martinat, anesthesiologist-resuscitator; expert in phytotherapy, aromatherapy and micronutrition; Health Manager of the (Be)OMA Center and author*.

This intoxication can be voluntary (this is the case for example during a suicide attempt, but it can also be carried out with the intention of causing harm) or involuntary (that is to say accidental).

What are the different types of poisoning?

There are three types of poisoning:

  • This can occur wheningestion of food (for example a mushroom), a medicine, plants (picking wild plants can for example lead to confusion between edible plants and toxic plants) or a drink (bleach for example).
  • Byabsorption of a gas or by a toxic emanation.
  • In case of direct contact with skin, mucous membranes (eyes, lips, etc.). The skin thus absorbs the chemical substance. This is the case for animal bites, for example.

“Poisoning can also be acute or chronic depending on the poisonsnotes the specialist. Acute poisoning is immediate poisoning, which occurs directly after exposure to the poison or toxic product. Chronic poisoning refers to being exposed to a small amount of poison on a regular basis. The signs take time to appear/are not immediate: this is the case when a person tries to poison another person in a small dose or during prolonged exposure to a small dose of a toxic substance.

Lead present in paints and asbestos contained in pipes, for example, cause long-term exposure and therefore chronic poisoning.

What are the potential sources of poisoning?

They are numerous and varied. Acute poisonings most often concern:

  • Medication : paracetamol, benzodiazepines, digitalis, etc.
  • Food : mushrooms, toxic plants, spoiled cans with botulinum toxin for example;
  • Drugs : cocaine, heroin for example. Alcohol too;
  • Toxic substances : antifreeze (ethylene glycol), paraquat (herbicide) for example;
  • The gas : carbon monoxide ;
  • Plants : wild (like Colchicum, often confused with wild garlic; Foxglove, Aconite, etc.) or indoor, if brought to the mouth (Aloe Vera, Ficus, Amaryllis, Philodendron, Monstera, etc.);
  • Poisonous animals : terrestrial and marine snakes, but also batrachians (South American frogs belonging to the Dendrobatidae groups, in particular species of the genus Phyllobates, represent a potential danger for humans due to the high toxicity of skin secretions), fish (scorpionfish , catfish, live fish, surgeon fish, rays, etc.), marine animals (certain species of sea urchins, cones, jellyfish, etc.), arachnids (scorpions, spiders, etc.) and insects (such as hymenoptera: ants, bees, wasps; certain families of beetles, lepidoptera (caterpillars with stinging hairs, butterflies, etc.).

What risk does this represent for children?

Unintentional or accidental poisoning is a situation that often occurs in children, especially younger ones, under 6 years old, who tend to explore the house and put things in their mouths. Medicines (dosage error, frequency of administration error), care products, household products are common causes of poisoning. This is why these products should not be kept within reach of little ones.

What are the symptoms that should alert you, depending on the type of poisoning?

The clinical presentation varies greatly depending on the type of poison.Paracetamol, for example, produces a picture of cytolytic hepatitis with severe liver failure. For the first few hours, there are few or no symptoms, then quickly, digestive signs appear (vomiting, signs of liver damage, etc.). Poisoning with mushrooms such as amanita phalloides also causes liver failure. Intoxication with drugs used for the cardiovascular system such as beta-blockers mainly causes cardiovascular symptoms (slowing of heart rate, cardiac conduction disturbances, reduction in blood pressure). The symptoms therefore really depend on the toxic substance responsible.summarizes Dr. Laure Martinat.

The effects may also be longer or shorter, depending on the type of poison. “For some, the signs are almost immediatecontinues the specialist. For others, it may take a few hours to appear or even a day (for example in the case of certain food poisoning, such as that of shellfish contaminated with a virus called Norovirus: the time for symptoms to appear is 24 to 48 hours in general). For still others, it can be very long (this is the case for lead, responsible for lead poisoning in children, for example).

Here, in broad terms, are the physical manifestations of poisoning depending on its nature:

Poisoning by ingestion:

  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cramps and abdominal pain;
  • Fever ;
  • Hypersalivation, saliva of an abnormal color;
  • Dizziness, drowsiness, malaise, loss of consciousness, convulsions;
  • Burning sensation (in the mouth, throat or stomach).

Inhalation poisoning:

  • Difficulty breathing;
  • Dizziness, headaches, hallucinations;
  • Irritation (eyes, nose, throat, etc.);
  • Discoloration of the lips (blue);
  • Vomiting;
  • Unconsciousness, drowsiness, malaise, loss of consciousness, convulsions.

Poisoning by contact with skin or mucous membranes:

  • Rashes, itching, blisters;
  • Swelling at the bite or point of contact;
  • Fever ;
  • Burning sensation in the affected area;
  • Discomfort, loss of consciousness;
  • Red eyes, swelling of the eyelids.

What are the consequences of poisoning?

Again, no general picture. “It all depends on the type of poison, the quantity ingested, the underlying condition of the person and the speed of medical treatment., reveals Dr. Laure Martinat. Poisoning can thus cause a few mild symptoms (such as digestive signs) or go as far as coma, failure of one or more organs, leading to a state of shock and the death of the person.

Can we avoid this deadly risk?

Unfortunately, it is not always possible to avoid this deadly risk: it all depends on the poison and the quantity ingested. “In the case of ingesting an entire bottle of Destop® for example, death is almost systematic.deplores the specialist. However, the rule to remember is that rapid treatment improves the prognosis and therefore the chances of survival.

How to react properly as a person affected or as someone close to the victim?

“You should always call for help as soon as you suspect poisoning and not make the person eat/drinkinsists the specialist. Try to keep the person conscious by talking to them. Place her in a recovery position if she vomits or loses consciousness.”

What to do if you suspect poisoning:

  • Do not handle the situation alone: ​​call emergency services as quickly as possible (dial 15 (SAMU) or 18 (fire brigade)) and contact the poison control center closest to you for instructions. https://centres-antipoison.net/

Eight centers in Europe: Paris, Angers, Bordeaux, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nancy, Toulouse.

  • Do not give the victim anything to drink or eat. Reassure her and stay next to her while waiting for the rescue teams to arrive;
  • If it is an inhalation poisoning, move it away from the source of poisoning; take her outside to breathe some fresh air;
  • If you know the source of the poisoning by ingestion (liquid, detergent, medicine, plant, mushroom, wild fruit, etc.), keep it in a plastic bag and give it to emergency services to speed up treatment;
  • Write down the time you realized the victim was poisoned. If swallowed, try to assess the amount of medication or liquid ingested by the victim;
  • Remove contaminated clothing, remembering to wear gloves yourself;
  • In case of contact with skin or mucous membranes, rinse with plenty of lukewarm water for 15 minutes, avoiding touching the wounds yourself;
  • If it is a bite, cover the wound with a clean cloth, lay the person down and wait for help with them, without moving.


  • As the poison control centers point out: milk is not an antidote! “On the contrary, it can sometimes have the opposite effect and make you want to vomit. Vomiting can in certain cases aggravate the situation, in the event of ingestion of a petroleum derivative for example or in a drowsy person”;
  • Do not try to make the victim vomit, give activated charcoal or vomit-inducing syrup without medical advice.

What are the…