If you’ve just swallowed something poisonous or harmful, your first instinct might be to make yourself throw up. For decades, many people, including doctors, thought this was the best course of action. Parents were instructed to keep a bottle of ipecac syrup, which is a thick substance that makes people vomit, on hand for cases like this.
Today, doctors and poison control experts advise against making yourself or someone else throw up after swallowing something potentially dangerous. The American Academy of Pediatrics even now encourages people to get rid of any lingering bottles of ipecac.
If you make yourself throw up because you have feelings of guilt about food you ate or want to lose weight, seek support from someone you feel you can trust. Regularly making yourself vomit can cause serious damage to your body, so it’s important to find help.
Keep reading to learn what you should do if you swallow something toxic or need to soothe an upset stomach.
When to induce vomiting
The human body is designed to remove things it doesn’t need or finds threatening or harmful. Toxic products or chemicals are no exception. If you or a loved one swallows something that might be harmful, contact a doctor or other expert. Don’t try to treat the issue at home, because this can sometimes make the problem worse.
If you’ve swallowed something, it’s hard to get it all out of your system through vomiting alone. This is a large part of why doctors no longer recommend it.
Inducing vomiting can also lead to:
- damage to the tissues in your throat and mouth
- further harm caused by a mix of poison and stomach acid
- chemical burns as the poison moves back up
- aspiration, or inhaling vomit into your lungs
You should only induce vomiting if you’re instructed to do so by a doctor or other medical professional. If they recommend this, they’ll also give you clear instructions on how to safely do it.
What to do in case you swallowed something harmful
If you, your child, or someone else swallowed something that could be poisonous, call poison control at 800-222-1222 as soon as possible. You should also call your doctor’s office to inform them of the situation and get any follow-up advice. If your doctor’s office is closed, call their emergency line. You can also call your local hospital’s emergency department.
Regardless of who you call, have the following information about the person who swallowed the poison on hand:
- height and weight
- when they ingested the poison
- what poison you believe they ingested
- how much you think was consumed
- any signs or symptoms that the person is experiencing
This crucial information will help them give you the best recommendation. If they confirm that something is toxic, you’ll likely need to go to the emergency room to reduce the risk of serious side effects or complications.
- Text "POISON" to 797979 to save the National Poison Help Hotline number and the American Association of Poison Control Centers' online tool to your smartphone. If you can’t access a phone or computer, go to the nearest emergency room immediately.
When you’re feeling nauseous, you might be tempted to make yourself throw up. This doesn’t always help. In fact, it can sometimes do more harm than good.
Instead, try these other methods to help reduce nausea:
- Breathe deeply. Rest quietly and relax while you take long, deep breaths in. Hold your breath for 5 to 10 seconds, then exhale. Repeat this until the nausea subsides.
- Eat a small snack. Try eating a few bites something bland, such as dry toast or crackers, to soothe an upset stomach.
- Apply pressure to your wrist. Pressing gently on certain pressure points may help reduce nausea.
- Cool down. Sometimes, lowering your body temperature can ease nausea. Try turning on a fan or placing a cold pack over your forehead.
Seek support for eating disorders
If you find yourself inducing vomiting in an effort to lose weight or control your eating, consider seeking outside help. Eating disorders can have lasting effects on both your body and your mental health.
If telling someone in person feels overwhelming, start by looking over the resources provided by these organizations:
- National Eating Disorders Association. This is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people with eating disorders find support.
- Recovery Record. This is an online treatment community with an app that helps you track and monitor your meals, milestones, and messages with your care team.
- Anorexia Nervosa & Related Eating Disorders. If you’re on the fence about whether or not you need help, take this organization’s self-test. When you feel ready to talk to your doctor, it might be useful to bring your results along to help guide the discussion.
The bottom line
If you or a loved one swallows a potentially poisonous substance, head for the phone, not the toilet. Call your doctor’s office, local hospital, or a poison control center. They can guide you toward the safest next steps.
Never force yourself to throw up unless a doctor or other medical expert tells you to do so.