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About Poison Control Centers

Woman at computer wearing telephone headset.Have you ever wondered what to do if your child accidentally swallows medicine? Or if bleach gets splashed in your eyes while cleaning your home? Immediate, lifesaving guidance is just a phone call away at poison control centers.

These are facilities dedicated to helping people faced with a poisoning emergency.

Children and even adults can easily swallow or inhale potentially poisonous substances. Or they can be exposed through the skin or eyes. When this happens, you must take immediate action to limit the damage. Calling poison control can provide you with the instructions you need to handle any poison emergency.

Poisoning statistics

Accidental poisoning is the second leading cause of death from unintentional injury, behind only motor vehicle accidents, the CDC says.

Poisoning tends to be more common in young children. About 50% of all reported poisonings involve children younger than 6 years old. But poisoning is typically more serious in adults.

Poisoning can be caused by ingesting:

  • Personal care products or cosmetics

  • Various medicines, such as pain medicine and cough-and-cold medicines

  • Cleaning products

  • Poisonous plants, including mushrooms

  • Batteries

How poison control centers work

Poison control centers are always open, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. They're staffed by pharmacists, healthcare provider, nurses, and other experts who are available by phone. They can provide emergency advice in more than 150 languages and have the equipment to communicate with the hearing impaired.

Poison control center staff can explain what to do when there's been an intentional or an accidental poisoning. Besides providing immediate advice in emergencies, staff members can also answer questions about poisonous substances and offer tips and suggestions to help prevent a poison emergency. Following their advice may eliminate the need for a trip to your healthcare provider or the hospital if action is taken quickly. Poison control center staff members also follow up after a poisoning emergency call to make sure that there are no further symptoms and all is well.

Calling poison control

All poison control centers are reached by calling 800-222-1222. This is a national toll-free number. It can be used to reach a poison control center from anywhere in the U.S.

You should call poison control if you know or think that someone has:

  • Taken too much medicine

  • Taken medicine that was not prescribed or intended for him or her

  • Been bitten or stung by an insect and is showing signs of an allergic reaction

  • Ingested a cleaning product or household product, such as a pesticide, antifreeze, or motor oil

  • Ingested a personal care product or cosmetic, such as hair gel or perfume

  • Had too much alcohol

Call poison control immediately—the moment you think someone might be poisoned. This is critical because signs and symptoms of poisoning often don't occur right away.

Post the poison control phone number in a visible spot in your home. Add poison control as a contact in your cell phone so that the number is easy to reach at all times. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Taylor, Wanda L, RN, Ph.D.
Online Medical Reviewer: Adler, Liora C., MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Image reviewed by StayWell art team.
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2016
© 2000-2017 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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