Activated charcoal is the best initial treatment for many (but not all) pediatric poisonings. However, many people have felt that parents should not be trusted to administer it at home. A study in the December 2001 issue of Pediatrics found that parents could do this safely and effectively – and much faster than doctors can!
Activated charcoal is most effective if given within 60 minutes of the poisoning – and sooner is even better. In this study, 95% of the children who received activated charcoal at home received it in 60 minutes or less, compared with children in the ER, where only 33% received activated charcoal in 60 minutes or less.
The average time to activated charcoal treatment at home was 38 minutes – compared with 73 minutes when activated charcoal was administered at the ER. I now recommend that parents have activated charcoal in the home, but that they should not administer it unless they speak to either the poison center or a pediatrician first.