Keep both of these over-the-counter emergency treatments on hand -- but never use them without calling poison control or your doctor first. These products are not interchangeable.
Syrup of ipecac causes a child to vomit within 30 minutes of ingestion and is often recommended for substances that are not absorbed quickly by the digestive system, such as large pills. Buy one bottle for each child in the house. Do not use ipecac if your child has swallowed a petroleum product, such as gasoline, or a corrosive substance, such as drain cleaner, which could burn his stomach, throat, or mouth tissue if vomited.
Activated charcoal binds to swallowed poisons such as aspirin and asthma drugs but does not induce vomiting. It also doesn't work against iron, petroleum products, or caustic substances such as dishwasher detergent and toilet cleaner. Use ipecac or charcoal when directed by a doctor or a poison-control center, but never use them together. Be sure to check expiration dates.