Treatment for Poisoning in Children

When our emergency doctors determine the type of poison affecting a child, they may use different treatments to reduce symptoms and help restore the body’s normal functions.

Gastrointestinal Decontamination

Gastrointestinal decontamination techniques may help prevent or reduce the absorption of toxic substances in the gastrointestinal tract after ingestion.

Orogastric Lavage

In rare situations when it appears that a child has been exposed to a toxic substance that has not had time to be fully absorbed into the body and requires removal to prevent toxicity, a doctor may perform orogastric lavage.

In this procedure, a tube is passed through the mouth to the stomach. Next, fluid is instilled through the tube and then suctioned back out.

Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal, an odorless and tasteless black powder mixed with water, may be used to reduce the amount of toxin absorbed into the blood. A child can either drink the activated charcoal solution or it can be administered through a nasogastric tube.

After exposure to certain medications such as aspirin, phenobarbital, or theophylline, doctors may repeat the treatment with activated charcoal several times.

Whole-Bowel Irrigation

In whole-bowel irrigation, toxins are “flushed” from the gastrointestinal tract with an electrolyte solution. A child may be able to drink the solution or a tube may be inserted through the nose or mouth and into the stomach. Flushing helps to push the contents of the gastrointestinal tract out of the body. Fluid is passed through the tube until clear fluid exits the rectum.


An antidote is a medication that neutralizes or counteracts the effects of a poison in the body. Not all toxins have an antidote but those that do include medications such as acetaminophen, digoxin, opioid painkillers, tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline, and warfarin, which is a blood thinner. Antidote medications are typically administered through an intravenous (IV) line that is inserted into the arm.

NYU Langone doctors administer an antidote when a child has certain symptoms or when the toxin can be accurately identified.

Some children with difficulties breathing may require a transfer to another hospital for treatment with hyperbaric oxygen therapy. This treatment delivers oxygen under high pressure to quickly reduce carbon monoxide levels in the blood. The child lies inside a chamber for approximately 90 minutes while 100 percent oxygen is delivered under high pressure.

Syrup of ipecac is a plant extract that causes regurgitation and vomiting. In the past it was used to treat poisoned people. Our doctors no longer consider it an effective treatment for children with poisoning. They recommend getting rid of any bottles of this substance from your home.

Resources for Poisoning in Children
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