The IPC receives about 80,000 calls each year regarding poisonings; in 2013 over 50,000 of those were calling from their home about an exposure that occurred there. Luckily, we were able to keep 90% of those people at home, without the need to go to an emergency room or doctor’s office for their exposure. That is part of what we do here at the IPC—determine which 90% will do just fine with no treatment and which 10% need to be evaluated by a healthcare professional for possible treatment.
If you or your child has ingested a potentially harmful substance in your home, the first instinct often is to do something or give something in an attempt to counteract or reverse the potential poison. This instinct is understandable and explains why there are so many home/folk remedies out there. Unfortunately some of these can be much more dangerous than the substance originally ingested!
Here are a few:
Despite popular legend, milk does not have any magical properties for treating poisonings. The theories I have heard are many: milk ‘coats the insides’ to prevent damage or absorption, or some part of milk’s components bind to or adsorb the poison. Alas, none of them are true. Milk is tasty on breakfast cereal or with a plate of cookies, but that’s about as good as it gets. At least milk is not especially dangerous if given in the case of most poisonings—some of these other home remedies are.
- Raw eggs, butter, or salt
I have also heard of well-meaning folks giving concoctions involving a host of food products such as raw eggs, butter or salt. Other culprits include garlic and mustard. I haven’t been able to get to the source of these urban legends but suffice to say, they do not work and some are dangerous. Giving raw eggs can cause food poisoning and ingesting a large amount of pure salt in a small child can be deadly.
- Baking soda
A spoonful of baking soda has a long history of being useful for a myriad of things around the house and somewhere along the line, it gained a reputation for being a universal antidote for poisonings. Baking soda is not helpful at all in the event of a poisoning AND not only that, but it is a poison in its own right. You can find the details here. Several years ago we had a very sad case in which a toddler ate a cough drop and a family member fed him several spoonfulls of baking soda to ‘counteract’ the cough drop in some way; the child died from the baking soda ingestion.
- Inducing vomiting
We have written a couple of blog posts (this one and this one) about why you should never induce vomiting. Back in the day, giving ipecac to induce vomiting was a mainstay of poisoning treatment. But with the advancement of medicine, we know that inducing vomiting does more harm than good.
The only home remedy you need is the IPC’s phone number! Save 1-800-222-1222 to your phone and someday it might save you back!