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When to Call Poison Control

Poison Control and Prevention Basics


Updated July 16, 2014

Program the number for the Poison Help hotline in your cell phone.

Program the number for the Poison Help hotline in your cell phone so that you always have it handy.

Photo courtesy of the American Association of Poison Control Centers
Updated July 16, 2014
What do you do if your child is poisoned?

Many parents might think that is a silly question, since the answer seems obvious - you just call poison control, right?

But there are a lot of things that get in the way that make the question a lot more complicated and confuse parents so that in the heat of the moment, instead of remaining calm and simply calling poison control, they do other things that can delay their child from getting the proper treatment they need.

What is a poison?

Understanding what actually is a poison confuses a lot of parents, since many the definition too literally, thinking a poison is just something like 'rat poison' or an insecticide. Instead, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, a poison is 'anything someone eats, breathes, gets in the eyes, or on the skin, that can cause sickness or death if it gets into or on the body.'

So by this definition, some dangerous poisons would include poisonous plants, including some wild mushrooms, foxglove, pokeweed, holly berries, and pokeweed, and household poisons, such as mouthwash, nail glue remover, drain cleaners, oven cleaners, lamp oil, antifreeze, furniture polish, cough and cold medicines, iron, blood pressure medicines, carbon monoxide, and lead paint.

In addition, poison control centers are staffed with experts who know how to handle snake bites, spider bites, and insect stings that may be poisonous, button battery ingestions, and even food poisoning.

First Aid for Poisonings

In most cases, if your child is poisoned, you should just call poison control right away using the toll free nationwide number:
You should not wait for your child to have symptoms, even if you aren't positive if your child actually swallowed any of the poison, or if you aren't sure if it really is poisonous. And don't call your pediatrician first to ask for advice on what to do. If your child had contact with something that could be poisonous, your best bet is to just call poison control.

In certain cases, like if your child is having seizures, is not breathing, or is unresponsive, then, of course, you should call 911 instead.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers also recommends the following first aid steps:

  • Swallowed Poisons
    • Don't give your child anything to eat or drink and don't give your child syrup of ipecac.
    • Call poison control.
  • Inhaled Poisons
    • Get your child to fresh air.
    • Call poison control.
  • Poisons on the Skin
    • Remove your child's contaminated clothing.
    • Rinse your child's skin with water for 15 to 20 minutes.
    • Call poison control (don't wait until you are done rinsing his skin though).
  • Poisons in the Eye
    • Flush your child's eye with lukewarm water for 15 to 20 minutes using running water or a large cup held 2 to 4 inches from his eye.
    • Do not force his eye open.
    • Call poison control (again, don't wait until you are done rinsing his eye out unless you have no other choice).

Calling Poison Control

When calling poison control, it can be helpful to have the name of the product or medicine that you suspect that your child was exposed to, how they were exposed (did they swallow it, inhale it or just get it on their skin, etc.), how much were they exposed to, and the current symptoms he is having.

You will likely also be asked for your child's age and weight, whether or not he has any medical problems, and a call back number, so have this information handy.

Poison Control and Prevention Facts

Other facts about poison control and prevention include that:

  • There is no charge for calling poison control and they are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

  • National Poison Prevention Week is observed during the third week of March each year.

  • 'Childproof' caps on medicines are not really childproof. They are simply child resistant and most kids will eventually get them opened, so you should still keep them out of reach and be sure to regularly clean out your medicine cabinet to reduce the number of medicines that you have in your home.

  • According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, about '30 children younger than 5 years old who die from unintentional poisonings each year' and 'about 85,000 young children visited U.S. hospital emergency rooms due to unintentional poisonings in 2004.'

Most importantly, keep in mind that although poison control is always available to help if your child is poisoned, it is much better to try and prevent poisonings by keeping your home well childproofed.


American Association of Poison Control Centers Poisoning Fact Sheet

CPSC Press Release #06-115

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