Do Not Induce Vomitting

Many consumer products not meant for human consumption bear the warning “In case of accidental ingestion, do not induce vomitting.”

Well why the heck not? If I’ve got a stomach full of shampoo the first thing I’m going to want to do is puke it back up.

What is the reasoning for this warning?

Swallowing shampoo will almost certainly induce vomiting.

But the real answer is, it would do more damage coming back up. I will let the medical types on the board give the long version.

I seem to remember that the “don’t induce vomiting” products can be just as bad, or worse, in your esophagus than in your stomach. It might just be easier to let the stuff pass through, than to puke it back up. Your stomach, after all, is built to handle some pretty bad stuff - hydrochloric acid - while your esophagus is relatively delicate. So my wild guess is that the stuff they tell you not to upchuck is the stuff that tends to be nasty for pH reasons, since stomach acid could neutralize bases, and stomach mucous could protect against acids. Other kinds of poisons are probably better to hurl, but I can’t think of any example of “In case of poisoning - INDUCE VOMITING” labels.

Nothing I write about any person or group should be applied to a larger group.

  • Boris Badenov

They worry about getting toxins in your lungs more than anything else. Aspiration pneumonia is bad enough when it’s “just” stomach contents, but getting, say, insecticide or gasoline in your lungs sets you up for acute respiratory distress syndrome which means a long stay on the ventilator in ICU or maybe death. We rarely even do gastric levage (stomach pumping) any more, it’s usually activated charcoal by mouth and poison specific antidotes if needed,

If you swallow a caustic substance such as gasoline or Drano, it burns your esophagus on the way down. If you throw it back up, it’ll burn your esophagus again. The correct thing to do in such a case is to get medical help immediately so they can put a tube down to your stomach and siphon the stuff back out before it does any more damage.

If you swallow a non-caustic but poisonous substance (say, shampoo or an overdose of medicine) you SHOULD induce vomiting before the poison has a chance to leave your stomach and get absorbed into your system.

Poisons cause damage 2 ways -

1 - physical corrosive damage to mucosal surfaces. The stomach is much better equipped to deal with this than the esophagus. Alkalis are much more damaging than acids; the acid in the stomach can neutralize the alkali, hence it is much safer to leave the substance in the stomach. These substances can also cause so much swelling & damage in the pharynx that they cause airway narrowing due to swelling, or aspiration because the the inflamed epiglottis doesn’t work properly. The mucosal surfacs of the trachea & bronchi are even more susceptible to damage from corrosives.

Vomiting causes more harm than good here.

2 - the substance can cause systemic harm once it gets absorbed into the blood stream. Effective strategies for getting the substance out of the GI tract (vomiting, gastric lavage {stomach pumping}, charcoal administration, and purgatives) can all decrease the absorption of the substances. If absorption, sometimes specific antidotes can be given.

Vomiting (generally) does more good than harm.

For dealing with ingestion emergencies:

  1. Find the container.

  2. Call 911 or your hospital’s emergency department. They can link you to the regional poison control center, who will have you read information from the container, and give you instructions nfor what to do at home, and also advise if a trip to the ER is needed.

Prevention is the best medicine here, but to minimize consequence, you should also keep all substances in their original containers, and if there are small children in your home, a bottle of ipecac handy to induce vomiting when needed.

Sue from El Paso