Syrup of Ipecac
Syrup of ipecac is on its way out the door. Although ipecac is commonly
considered a staple in households with young children, the American
Academy of Pediatrics no longer recommends the routine use of this
remedy for accidental poisonings.
There are a number of reasons that ipecac has fallen out of favor. Studies
have shown the sooner ipecac is taken after accidental ingestion of a
poison, the greater the amount of the poison removed from the stomach
through vomiting. But even when ipecac is taken immediately after ingestion
of a poison, not all of the toxin is removed. So the potential for harm
from the poison may still exist despite the use of ipecac. The persistent
vomiting caused by ipecac can also reduce the effectiveness of other
oral treatments for poisoning, such as activated charcoal — the
most effective way of drawing poison out of the body. In addition to
causing vomiting, the syrup can also produce diarrhea and lethargy. These
symptoms, especially lethargy, can be confused with the effects of some
drugs that a child may have accidentally ingested. Furthermore, when
syrup of ipecac is readily available in the home, it is easily and likely
used at inappropriate times and without the advice of a physician or
poison control center.
One of the original justifications for having syrup of ipecac readily
on hand was for the treatment of people at risk of some symptoms worse
than vomiting but not at risk of life-threatening symptoms requiring
medical attention. This idea is thrown out the window, though, by the
results of a recent study. Results based on data gathered from several
poison centers around the country show the use of syrup of ipecac does
not reduce the number of emergency department visits. The study also
showed children who received the syrup after an accidental ingestion
of a medication fared no better than children who did not receive ipecac
in a similar situation. This is not to say syrup of ipecac is not effective
in some circumstances, but rather its limited benefit does not justify
the position it has had as the primary safety net in cases of accidental
poisonings at home.
Prevention should be the primary method for steering clear of harm from
poisons. A number of steps can be taken to reduce the likelihood of such
- Remove potential poisons from the sight and reach of children.
- Be sure to properly close child-resistant containers.
- Keep hazardous substances in their original containers.
- Properly dispose of unused medications.
- Do not describe medicine as candy.
In the event that an accident should occur, the first step is to call
a poison control center. The universal number is 800-222-1222; calls
are routed to local centers. Keep this number by a phone.
June 2004 Update
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