Worried your child may have ingested something poisonous?
9/18/2023 by Justin McKone, M.D., M.P.H.
Since 2001, the universal phone number to reach your local Poison Control center in the United States and U.S. Territories has been 1-800-222-1222. If this number is not already in your phone contacts list, take the time now to save and share it with anyone who cares for your children. You can also ask for a refrigerator magnet at your next primary care appointment.
Calling this phone number can save a life or an unnecessary trip to the emergency room. Specialists in poison information answer the phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, and interpretation services are available for 161 languages. The call is free and confidential.
During 2021, people from Minnesota called Poison Control 43,138 times. Thirty-seven percent of these, or 15,834 calls, were for exposures involving children 5 years of age or less. On average this translates to one call every half hour. Ninety-nine percent of the calls were for unintentional exposures and 1% were for adverse reactions. The top five categories of substances were:
- Cosmetics/personal care products (11.3%).
- Household cleaning substances (10.0%).
- Analgesics — pain medications (9.9%).
- Dietary supplements/herbals/homeopathic medicines (6.9%).
- Foreign bodies/toys/miscellaneous objects (6.3 %).
The phone-based Poison Control system is an excellent tool for providing information to individuals and healthcare providers about poison exposures, but there is another way to get information from the Poison Control system.
To expand access and methods to reach Poison Control, a web-based application was developed as a pilot program in 2014. This tool is now available on the web at webpoisoncontrol.org, or through a free app on the Apple App store or Google Play store. It provides advice for single substance exposures for non-pregnant people ages 6 months to 79 years old who are otherwise healthy.
The webPOISONCONTROL.org website is not meant to replace 1-800-222-1222 but it can be another way to get fast advice. It also provides helpful tools such as a pill identifier and the ability to scan the barcode of a product that someone has been exposed to.
In 2021 there were a total of 72,562 cases involving children aged 6 months to 5 years old. Three out of four cases (76%) cases received advice from the webPOISONCONTROL app alone and 1 in 4 (23%) cases required a follow-up call to Poison Control. Less than 1% required referral to the emergency department. This website or phone app is a great resource to add to your toolkit for keeping your child healthy and safe, even when accidents occur.
The Poison Control system is always just a call or click away, but as the old proverb goes — "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Minnesota Poison Control has great tips to prevent poison exposures in children. The Health Resources and Services Administration website has excellent resources as well, with great seasonal tips for poison exposure prevention.
Justin McKone, M.D., M.P.H., is a third-year resident physician in Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He earned his undergraduate degree in Molecular Toxicology at the University of California, Berkeley, and his medical degree as well as his Master of Public Health degree at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans.