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Activated Charcoal

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 5, 2023.

What is activated charcoal?

Activated charcoal is an emergency medicine given to someone who has swallowed certain poisons. It is given 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 alert. You will need to provide information about the poison that was swallowed. You will get instructions on what to do next. Do not take or give charcoal to someone unless directed to by the poison control center or a healthcare provider.

What are the risks of activated charcoal?

Activated charcoal can cause you to choke or vomit. It can also damage your lungs if you breathe it in by accident. Activated charcoal may cause a blockage in your intestines if you receive several doses.

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.
  • Teach your child about poisons in the home and why it is important to stay away from them. Do not call medicine candy or take medicine in front of children.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You are unable to have a bowel movement.
  • You continue to vomit.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You have blood in your bowel movements.
  • 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 healthcare providers 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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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.