Medical toxicology is an area of medicine that diagnoses and treats poisoned people. Medical toxicologists operate in diverse sectors of medicine and treat poisons that threaten patient health. Some medical toxicologists may provide services in emergency rooms; others may direct poison control centers, while still others will conduct research for pharmaceutical drug development.
Circumstances which may require a medical toxicologist include, but are not limited to:
When evaluating a poisoned patient, a medical toxicologist considers the patient's age, physical size, symptoms, and amount of toxic substance consumed. If a sample of the ingested substance is available, a medical toxicologist can order a test of the sample to determine its concentration and toxicity.
Toxins that are ingested may require gastrointestinal decontamination to clear the digestive system. Gastrointestinal decontamination procedures include orogastric lavage (stomach pump), activated charcoal, or whole-bowel irrigation (electrolyte solution flush).
Medical toxicologists may prescribe an antidote to counteract poisoning from other types of toxic exposure. One example is naloxone (also known as Narcan), which is administered via injection or through an inhaler, to treat opioid overdoses. Antivenoms are used as antidotes for venomous bites or stings. Antivenoms are produced by injecting venom into an animal (such as a horse or sheep), who reacts to the venom by creating antibodies. Antibodies are then safely collected from the animal and purified into an injectable antivenom treatment.
For long-term exposure to dangerous industrial chemicals (such as insecticides or mercury), an immediate remedy or antidote may not exist.