Activated Charcoal

What is activated charcoal?

Activated charcoal is an emergency medicine given to someone who has swallowed certain poisons. Caregivers give activated charcoal through a tube that runs from your nose to your stomach. Activated charcoal binds to the poison so your body cannot absorb it. The poison leaves your body with the charcoal when you have a bowel movement.

What should I do if someone has been poisoned?

Call 911 immediately if the person is not awake or alert. Call the poison control center at: 1-800-222-1222 if the person is still alert. You will need to provide information about the poison that was swallowed. You will get instructions on what to do next. Never take or give charcoal to someone without being told by a poison control center or your caregiver.

What are the risks of activated charcoal?

Activated charcoal can cause you to choke, vomit, or have constipation. It can also damage your lungs if you breathe it in by accident. If you receive several doses, activated charcoal may cause a blockage in your intestines. People who are at risk of bleeding or damage in their stomach should not get activated charcoal.

How do I prevent poisoning in the home?

  • Keep all poisons out of the reach of children. Lock medicines, cleaning products, antifreeze, and other dangerous items away so children cannot get them.

  • Keep purses or diaper bags that contain medicines out of the reach of children.

  • Do not leave children alone with cleaning products or medicines that you are using.

  • Close medicine bottles tightly after you use them.

  • Keep medicine in the bottle it came in so that no one will take it by mistake.

  • Throw away unused medicine. Do not keep these medicines to be used later. Ask caregivers how to throw away the leftover medicine.

  • Do not call medicine candy or take medicine in front of children.

  • Know which plants in or outside your home are poisonous. Keep them out of the reach of children.

  • Teach your child about poisons in the home and why it is important to stay away from them.

Where can I get more information?

Contact the National Capital Poison Center if you think someone has swallowed a poison. You may also contact them for more information about activated charcoal.

  • 24-Hour Nationwide Poison Control Hotline
    National Capital Poison Center
    3201 New Mexico Avenue, Suite 310
    Washington , DC 20016
    Phone: 1- 800 - 222-1222
    Web Address:

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You are unable to have a bowel movement.

  • You have blood in your bowel movements.

  • You continue to vomit.

  • You have questions about activated charcoal.

When should I seek immediate help?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You choke on activated charcoal and have trouble breathing.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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