Salicylate poisoning: an evidence-based consensus guideline for out-of-hospital management

Clin Toxicol (Phila). 2007;45(2):95-131. doi: 10.1080/15563650600907140.


A review of U.S. poison center data for 2004 showed over 40,000 exposures to salicylate-containing products. A guideline that determines the conditions for emergency department referral and pre-hospital care could potentially optimize patient outcome, avoid unnecessary emergency department visits, reduce health care costs, and reduce life disruption for patients and caregivers. An evidence-based expert consensus process was used to create the guideline. Relevant articles were abstracted by a trained physician researcher. The first draft of the guideline was created by the lead author. The entire panel discussed and refined the guideline before distribution to secondary reviewers for comment. The panel then made changes based on the secondary review comments. The objective of this guideline is to assist poison center personnel in the appropriate out-of-hospital triage and initial out-of-hospital management of patients with a suspected exposure to salicylates by 1) describing the process by which a specialist in poison information should evaluate an exposure to salicylates, 2) identifying the key decision elements in managing cases of salicylate exposure, 3) providing clear and practical recommendations that reflect the current state of knowledge, and 4) identifying needs for research. This guideline is based on an assessment of current scientific and clinical information. The expert consensus panel recognizes that specific patient care decisions may be at variance with this guideline and are the prerogative of the patient and the health professionals providing care, considering all of the circumstances involved. This guideline does not substitute for clinical judgment. Recommendations are in chronological order of likely clinical use. The grade of recommendation is in parentheses: 1) Patients with stated or suspected self-harm or who are the victims of a potentially malicious administration of a salicylate, should be referred to an emergency department immediately. This referral should be guided by local poison center procedures. In general, this should occur regardless of the dose reported (Grade D). 2) The presence of typical symptoms of salicylate toxicity such as hematemesis, tachypnea, hyperpnea, dyspnea, tinnitus, deafness, lethargy, seizures, unexplained lethargy, or confusion warrants referral to an emergency department for evaluation (Grade C). 3) Patients who exhibit typical symptoms of salicylate toxicity or nonspecific symptoms such as unexplained lethargy, confusion, or dyspnea, which could indicate the development of chronic salicylate toxicity, should be referred to an emergency department (Grade C). 4) Patients without evidence of self-harm should have further evaluation, including determination of the dose, time of ingestion, presence of symptoms, history of other medical conditions, and the presence of co-ingestants. The acute ingestion of more than 150 mg/kg or 6.5 g of aspirin equivalent, whichever is less, warrants referral to an emergency department. Ingestion of greater than a lick or taste of oil of wintergreen (98% methyl salicylate) by children under 6 years of age and more than 4 mL of oil of wintergreen by patients 6 years of age and older could cause systemic salicylate toxicity and warrants referral to an emergency department (Grade C). 5) Do not induce emesis for ingestions of salicylates (Grade D). 6) Consider the out-of-hospital administration of activated charcoal for acute ingestions of a toxic dose if it is immediately available, no contraindications are present, the patient is not vomiting, and local guidelines for its out-of-hospital use are observed. However, do not delay transportation in order to administer activated charcoal (Grade D). 7) Women in the last trimester of pregnancy who ingest below the dose for emergency department referral and do not have other referral conditions should be directed to their primary care physician, obstetrician, or a non-emergent health care facility for evaluation of maternal and fetal risk. Routine referral to an emergency department for immediate care is not required (Grade C). 8) For asymptomatic patients with dermal exposures to methyl salicylate or salicylic acid, the skin should be thoroughly washed with soap and water and the patient can be observed at home for development of symptoms (Grade C). 9) For patients with an ocular exposure of methyl salicylate or salicylic acid, the eye(s) should be irrigated with room-temperature tap water for 15 minutes. If after irrigation the patient is having pain, decreased visual acuity, or persistent irritation, referral for an ophthalmological examination is indicated (Grade D). 10) Poison centers should monitor the onset of symptoms whenever possible by conducting follow-up calls at periodic intervals for approximately 12 hours after ingestion of non-enteric-coated salicylate products, and for approximately 24 hours after the ingestion of enteric-coated aspirin (Grade C).

Publication types

  • Practice Guideline
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • Poison Control Centers*
  • Poisoning / etiology
  • Poisoning / metabolism
  • Poisoning / therapy
  • Salicylates / pharmacokinetics
  • Salicylates / poisoning*
  • Triage / methods*


  • Salicylates