What is poisoning?

Poisoning occurs when you come into contact with a substance that is toxic. In some cases, the substance must be ingested to be poisonous, but in other cases, it is enough to inhale it or have it touch your skin. Some gases and chemicals may always be poisonous, but other items may only be poisonous in large amounts. For example, a particular medication may be helpful at the recommended dosage, but taking too much of that same medication could be poisonous.

Poisoning is when a chemical gets into your body and makes you sick. Sometimes the chemical is clearly harmful to humans, like bleach. But it can also happen if you take in too much of something that's usually safe, like a medicine.

You can be poisoned by swallowing, breathing, or touching something. Here are some examples:
  • Taking too much of a medicine or vitamin
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Swallowing detergent, paint, cleaning fluid, antifreeze, or a chemical for killing bugs or mice
  • Eating a harmful plant, or a food that has harmful bacteria
  • Breathing fumes from a gas engine or an open can of paint
  • Splashing something in your eye, like bleach
  • Spilling a harmful liquid on your skin or touching a plant like poison ivy
  • Getting bitten by certain spiders or snakes
Poisoning can be serious. In fact, each year in the U.S. about 1,000 people die from it.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.