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How to Administer Activated Charcoal for Accidental Poisonings

Updated on December 20, 2016
eHealer profile image

I have worked as an RN for over 25 years in several specialties, and I am an educator for various universities on the West Coast.

Treat Unintentional Poisoning Quickly

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Children and pets are the most vulnerable populations to poisonings. Every year, over one million children are affected globally. Over 90 percent of poisonings occur in the home and may cause death or severe disability to victims.

For unintentional poisonings, it is imperative to treat the person or pet within one hour of the ingestion of the toxic substance with activated charcoal. The charcoal will absorb the substance and prevent it from leaving the stomach and entering the body.

The ingestion of aspirin is the number one cause of poisoning in children. Tylenol and ibuprofen are also in the lead. It only takes a moment for a child to swallow something toxic, and usually it occurs when a parent is distracted for a fraction of a minute. Always have activated charcoal on hand—and the number to the poison control center and your pediatrician on speed dial.

What is Activated Charcoal?

Activated charcoal comes in powder, granules, liquid and tablets. Keep the most useful form of the poison absorbent on hand and be prepared for any emergency. When a child, adult or pet ingests a poison, the activated charcoal is given orally to absorb the poison, medications or the toxic substance and stops it from entering the person's bloodstream and doing harm. Activated charcoal is made up of continuous layers of almost pure carbon that trap and absorb harmful substances in the stomach and render it harmless.

How Activated Charcoal Absorbs the Poison in the Stomach

Illustration by Author/eHealer
Illustration by Author/eHealer | Source

Consult Your Pediatrician in Advance

Be prepared before an unintentional poisoning and consult your pediatrician on the best way to administer and provide a dosage for your child. Do not give activated charcoal if your child has any allergy to it. Be sure to consult your physician if your child has any other ailments or stomach conditions.

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What to do in an Unintentional Poisoning

Don't panic. This is easier said then done, but if you start yelling, the child will look to you for their anxiety level and begin to cry and may be less cooperative. Be calm and work fast. Contact the poison control center immediately, and call your pediatrician as well. Have this information available for the professionals you have contacted:

  • The child's age
  • The child's weight
  • Read the ingredients from the bottle what the child swallowed, drank or inhaled
  • What time did the accident occur
  • Did the child or adult vomit?
  • How far away from a hospital are you?
  • Do you have activated charcoal on hand?
  • Does your child or the adult have any existing diseases or conditions?

References and Resources

The Use of Activated Charcoal in Pediatric Populations

American Association of Poison Control Centers: For a poison emergency in the U.S. call 1-800-222-1222 (this is the 911 for Poison Control)

Follow the Instructions of the Poison Control Center

The poison professionals recommend that you don't follow the instructions on the label of a bottle of a poisonous substance. The instructions may be actually harmful and are usually outdated and useless. Always follow the directions of the poison control center, or your pediatrician.

Dosages for Adults and Children

Different strengths and dosages may apply to various forms of activated charcoal. Follow the instructions on the bottle or wait for instructions from the poison control professional. Liquid charcoal may be better for children that can't swallow tablets or the powder form may be also mixed with water. Most professionals recommend you don't mix the activated charcoal with sugary foods or drinks because it may lessen its effectiveness to absorb the substance. The poison control professional will figure out the dose for your child by weight, or give you a standard dose for a teen or adult.

Dosage for Children and Adults of Activated Charcoal

Age Related Dosage
Age Related Dosage
Dosage Time
Children up to 1 year of age
10-25 grams (gm)
Wihin one hour of poisoning as a single dose
Over 1 year of age and up to 12 years old
25-50 grams (gm)
Within one hour of poisoning as a single dose
Over 12 years of age and adults
50-100 grams (gm)
Withing one hour of poisoning as a single dose
After initial dose of charcoal, call your physician and poison control center for further instructions

Call the National Animal Poison Control Hotline

This is the Poison Control for Animals Number from the ASPCA (888) 426-4435 and are available 24/7.

What if My Pet Swallows poison or Medication?

The curious nature of our best friends may put them in danger of being poisoned. If you suspect they have been poisoned, call the Animal Poison Control hotline immediately or contact your veterinarian immediately and give them the information:

  • How old is your pet?
  • How much does your pet weigh?
  • Read the ingredients from the bottle or give the vet your pet's symptoms in detail
  • Has your pet vomited?
  • What other conditions does your pet have?
  • Do you know what time the pet ingested the poison?

Activated Charcoal Dosages for Dogs and Cats

Weight of Dog or Cat
Dosage of Activated Charcoal
Single Dosage and Follow Up with a Vet
1-10 pounds
2-18 grams (gm)
by mouth in a single dose
11-20 pounds
20-40 grams (gm)
by mouth in a single dose
21-30 pounds
41-60 grams (gm)
by mouth in a single dose
31-40 pounds
61-80 grams (gm)
by mouth in a single dose
41--50 pounds
81-100 grams (gm)
by mouth in a single dose
51-60 pounds
101 grams-120 grams (gm)
by mouth as a single dose
Over 60 pounds
120-200 grams (gm)
by mouth as a single dose
Follow up your initial dosage of activated charcoal with a veterinary consult

Always Contact the Poison Control Center Before Administering Activated Charcoal

Before you administer the activated charcoal, always speak with the poison control center. Don't call your physician or veterinarian first—they may take too long to call back, and this will waste time. Both of the poison control hotlines are open 24 hours, seven days a week, and they will provide the best information for helping the victim.

Activated Charcoal in Tablet Form

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    • eHealer profile image
      Author

      Deborah 4 years ago from Las Vegas

      Thanks DrMark, I love your hubs too! They are very interesting and very cool!

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 4 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Just reading this great article again and wanted to let you know I will share this on my twitter feed again.

    • eHealer profile image
      Author

      Deborah 4 years ago from Las Vegas

      Thanks Kris, I am so glad you think it's useful. I appreciate the kind comments and thank you for the support!

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 4 years ago from Indiana

      I had never heard of this either until I had seen it administered in an emergency room for someone who overdosed. This is extremely useful information! Voted up and sharing:)

    • eHealer profile image
      Author

      Deborah 4 years ago from Las Vegas

      Thanks Glimmer, a real must in a first aid kit. It has saved many lives of all kinds of pets and people. Thanks for your comment, always glad to see you.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      I've never heard about activated charcoal, but obviously wish I had. This is an extremely useful hub. Shared.

    • eHealer profile image
      Author

      Deborah 4 years ago from Las Vegas

      Hi Mary, thanks for the support. Activated charcoal in liquid form can be given to pets or children, although maybe tablets for dogs would be easier to give them, depends on the dog I guess. Thanks for stopping by and see you soon on the hubs!

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 4 years ago from Florida

      This is a very informative article. I never knew activated charcoal came in liquid form. That would be easier to give to a pet, I think. You did a great job with this Hub, chart, etc.

      I voted this UP, etc. and will share.

    • eHealer profile image
      Author

      Deborah 4 years ago from Las Vegas

      Thanks DrMark, I wish I would've thought of that for a "first aid kit," great idea! I was shocked to learn that the ASPCA had a 24/7 poison control hotline for dogs! Very cool and thanks for the support!

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 4 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Excellent advice! Activated charcoal should always be part of a good first aid kit, human or animal. That trip to the emergency room and the time it takes you to explain what happenedmay be too much for a small system exposed to poison.

      Voted up and shared.