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One should call Poison Control anytime one suspects accidental or purposeful ingestion of a substance that might be dangerous. Further, skin or eye exposure to certain chemicals should also result in a call to this facility. Although there are state Poison Control centers, these numbers might be hard to find immediately. One can merely call the toll-free US National Poison Control Center at any time of night or day at 1-800-222-1222.
Since about 80,000 children are seen in hospitals each year for accidental exposure to potentially deadly substances, Poison Control is a valuable free resource. Its staff is happy to converse with anyone who is worried about possible poisoning. This is the case, even if there turns out to be no danger.
In some cases, parents simply don’t know a child has eaten something that is deadly. There are about 30 deaths of children in the US each year due to accidental poisoning. Most of these cases are preventable when one knows about the possible ingestion of poison, and immediately calls Poison Control for advice.
Most pediatricians recommend calling Poison Control before taking any type of action. It is especially important not to attempt to induce vomiting, or give the child anything to eat if you suspect the child may have eaten something toxic. In some cases, if a child or adult is unconscious and cannot be roused, the first call should be to emergency services like 911.
Pediatricians often include the recommendation that parents call Poison Control prior to contacting a child’s doctor. This is because contacting a doctor, especially during off hours tends to mean one must wait for assistance. Contacting the center first can get one advice regarding whether to seek emergency treatment.
Any suspected ingestion of any substance not intended for food, including vitamins, should be treated as suspected poisoning. When possible, try to get a child to identify what he or she has eaten. Maintain calm when you can, because a child is likely to be more honest if he does not fear your anger.
If a child comes in from the backyard chewing on a leaf, ask the child to show you where they got the leaf. Some outdoor plants are innocuous, while others can be extremely poisonous like digitalis or oleander. When in doubt, always call Poison Control.
It helps to give the operatives as much information as possible, so they can give you the best possible advice. If a child has snacked on vitamins or pills, which is a possibly lethal situation, take the bottle with you to the phone, so you can identify all possible sources.
If you are a parent, it makes good sense to keep the number for Poison Control displayed in a prominent place. Alternately, put the number on speed dial.
I've called the Animal Poison Control number a few times over the years. It can take a long time for a veterinarian to reach my area for an emergency, so I'll call Poison Control first to see if I can do anything on my own first. One time they told me my dog had ingested a serious poison, so I drove him to the nearest animal hospital and they managed to dilute the antifreeze he drank.
I've only had to call the Poison Control number once in my life, but I was so glad I did. My youngest son was exploring the woods behind our house and came inside with a bowl of little red berries. They weren't blackberries or blueberries, but those inedible berries from a decorative bush. I could tell he had eaten a few of them. He said they tasted "yucky".
I immediately called Poison Control and they asked me a series of questions about the berries and my son. What did the bush look like? How many did he eat? Is he showing any signs of distress? They eventually determined the berries were not poisonous, but they could still cause a bad reaction in young children. It was okay to induce vomiting, so I gave my son some syrup of ipecac. He didn't have any other symptoms later on, but I took him to our regular doctor a few days later.