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About Poison Control Centers

Woman at computer wearing telephone headset.

What should you do if your child accidentally swallows too much medicine? Or if you splash bleach in your eyes while cleaning your home? Fast help is a phone call away at poison control centers. These are facilities that help people with poisoning emergencies.

Children and adults can easily swallow or inhale substances that may be toxic. Or they can be exposed through the skin or eyes. When this happens, you need to take quick action to limit the harm. Calling poison control can give you the instructions to handle a poison emergency.

Poisoning facts

Accidental poisoning is the second leading cause of death from unintentional injury, the CDC says.

Poisoning tends to be more common in young children. Most of all reported poisonings happen in children younger than 6 years old. But poisoning is often more serious in adults.

Poisoning can be caused by swallowing:

  • Personal care products or cosmetics

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

  • Cleaning products

  • Poisonous plants, including mushrooms

  • Batteries

  • Illegal drugs

How poison control centers work

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. 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 talk to you over the phone. They can give emergency advice in more than 150 languages. They also have devices to communicate with the hearing impaired.

Poison control center staff can explain what to do when there's been a poisoning. They can also answer questions about poisonous substances. They can give tips and advice to help prevent a poison emergency. Following their advice quickly may mean you don't need to see your healthcare provider or go to the hospital. Poison control center staff also follow up after a poisoning emergency call. They make sure that there are no new symptoms and the person is okay.

When to call poison control

Call poison control as soon as you think someone might be poisoned. Don't wait for signs and symptoms of poisoning. They often don't occur right away. 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

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

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

  • Had too much alcohol, prescription medicine, or illegal drugs, especially if they are unconscious and or having a seizure

  • Gotten a toxic substance on their skin

Post the poison control phone number (800-222-1222) in a spot in your home that is easy for anyone to see. Add poison control as a contact in your cell phone. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith RN MSN CCRC
Online Medical Reviewer: Donna Freeborn PhD CNM FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: Eric Perez MD
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2019
© 2000-2019 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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