When my son was seven or eight, he came home from a friend’s house, disappeared and was very, very quiet.

Richard Nixon (edited out of the photo) meetin...

Karen and Richard Carpenter, 08/01/1972 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyone who has a young child knows that prolonged periods of quiet, if they’re not sleeping, is a danger sign.

I went to find him to see what was going on.

As soon as he opened his mouth, I smelled something awful.

It turned out that a friend had dared him to take a bite of a deodorizer disk that his Mom used in the toilet.

Why he did it, I’ll never know.

But, the next thing we did was call the poison control center.

They said it was the lowest level of poison in its category, but advised us to give him some Ipecac, which we had on hand for just such an occasion, and take him to the emergency room.

The emergency room continued to give him Ipecac every half hour over the next four hours until he finally started throwing up.

By the time they were through, he was starving and we all went out for a steak dinner.

Since a study published in 2003 in Pediatrics and a subsequent change in recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Ipecac is no longer recommended as the go-to medicine of choice for suspected poisoning.

There are several reasons, first with vomiting itself:

  • Inducing vomiting can damage the throat, if the poison is one that burns, as it comes back up
  • Inducing vomiting risks getting the poison into the lungs
  • Inducing vomiting can make the poison be digested faster.

Then, although they admit they don’t have enough data to rule out Ipecac if it is administered right away, instead of at the hospital, they still advise against Ipecac or anything else to induce vomiting:

  • The study showed no better effect from Ipecac than not
  • The study showed that you almost always have to go to the hospital anyway
  • Ipecac-induced vomiting was not shown to lessen the amount of poison in the system
  • Ipecac may confuse some symptoms the doctor needs to see, like lethargy, which may be due to the Ipecac or the poison
  • Using Ipecac may delay the use of more effective strategies, like activated charcoal or oral antidotes

Sadly, Ipecac has been misused by those with bulimia and is blamed in the 1983 death of one of our favorite singers, Karen Carpenter.

She, who sang the song used at most weddings I’ve been to since, “We’ve Only Just Begun.”

If you still think having Ipecac on your medicine shelf is a way to keep your grandchildren safe, it’s time to pitch it out.

Instead, keep the national poison control center free emergency phone number handy: 1-800-222-1222.

Thank you to pediatricians Dr. Aaron Carroll and Dr. Rachel Vreeman for busting this health myth from our childhood.

You can order Drs. Carrol and Vreeman’s book from amazon by clicking on the title, Don’t Cross Your Eyes…They’ll Get Stuck That Way!


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers




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