Syrup of Ipecac
When a child swallows anything that’s poisonous, parents probably think they are well prepared if ipecac syrup is on hand. Wrong, says the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Clinical Toxicology. If you have ipecac in your house, get rid of it. For years, ipecac was thought to be a good way to treat a child who had swallowed a toxic substance, but not anymore.
Made from the root of a Brazilian plant, ipecac irritates the stomach to induce vomiting. But a recent study from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center found that ipecac doesn’t reduce ER visits or save lives. Maybe that’s because it doesn’t always remove enough of the toxic substance from the body, says American College of Emergency Physicians spokesperson Charles Pattavina, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Brown University Medical School. Ipecac can leave 40 to 50 percent of the toxin behind. It can also lead to excessive vomiting, a problem that may cause dehydration and prevent doctors from giving other treatments. Another risk: If the poisonous substance is caustic, like lye, it burns the esophagus when swallowed, and can burn it again when it comes back up.
Immediately call the national poison control hotline (800-222-1222), which will be answered by your local poison control center. (Paste the number on the back of your phone.) The experts will be able to tell you what, if anything, to do. If it’s a true emergency, they may send you directly to the ER. There the treatment of choice is often activated charcoal (AC), a very finely ground charcoal powder. When the tasteless powder is swallowed (often it’s mixed with soda), it can soak up the ingested substance like a sponge, preventing it from entering the bloodstream. The charcoal then passes through the digestive system and leaves the body.
It’s important to move quickly, since AC is best taken within an hour of ingesting the poison. Some poison control centers recommend having AC on hand (you may find it in drugstores), but stress that you should never use it without expert guidance. The poison control center will tell you if it’s necessary, and how much to use, which depends on the victim’s weight. Look for AC in powder form, or pre-mixed with water (called a slurry), not capsules—you’d need to swallow 50 of them to get the benefit, says Henry Spiller, director of the Kentucky Regional Poison Center.
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