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Questions about
Calling the Poison Center


Whom am I speaking to?

When you call the National Capital Poison Center, you will be speaking directly to one of the Specialists in Poison Information. All Specialists at the National Capital Poison Center are registered nurses or pharmacists. All Specialists have passed a national certification exam in toxicology.

What will I need when I call the Poison Center?

If possible, have the container that the medication or chemical came from. Give a brief quick overview of the situation; (i.e. " My 3-year-old just pulled his grandmothers medicine pack out of the suitcase. He had a couple pills in his mouth but I don't know if he swallowed any.") The Poison Specialist will then ask you several questions. This information is needed for the Specialist to make an accurate assessment of the situation's severity and will play an important part in the treatment information you are given. Once this information is gathered the Specialist will determine how serious this situation is and guide you through any recommendations you are given. Some of the questions may include:

  • AGE of patient. Be exact.

  • CONDITON of the patient. Let the Specialist know immediately if the patient is unconscious or appears to have any breathing difficulties, (wheezing, bluish color to skin, lips, nails).

  • WEIGHT of patient. Do not guess if you do not know. If you have a scale at home you may be asked to weigh the patient. If you do not have a scale, and the patient is a child try to let the Specialist know if the child is smaller or larger than average for his age.

  • HEALTH HISTORY of the patient. Let the Specialist know if the patient has any medical problems or allergies or take any current medications.

  • The EXACT NAME of the product, as read from the label (if available). Many medications and household products have similar names with only slight variations.

  • The SIZE of the container. This information may be on a container in forms such as: OZ, FL OZ, QTY, ML or the number of pills. Even if the container was not full before the exposure, the specialist will need to know the size of a full container.

  • The STRENGTH of a particular product. This may be in mg, mcg, mg/ml, mg/oz, mg/tsp, mg/#ml or it may be in %. Look for the area on the container that has active ingredients listed.

  • WHEN the exposure occurred and HOW LONG the exposure lasted.

  • The AMOUNT involved in the exposure, if known. Do not estimate or guess or assume.

  • You will also be asked for your NAME, PHONE NUMBER, ZIPCODE, and your RELATIONSHIP to the patient, (i.e. parent, baby-sitter, etc…).

Why does the Poison Center need my phone number?

A return phone number is very important in case you are disconnected while speaking with the Poison Center. Further more, since the Poison Center is giving out treatment information on the phone it is very important to us that we be able to follow up with you to provide more information or advice as needed.

Will I have a permanent record if I call the Poison Center?

We maintain confidential, computerized records of each case. Each case is written up as a medical chart.  Once the case is completed and follow up is done, the case is filed along with all the cases for that day. Please do not hesitate to call the Poison Center because you feel that you call "too frequently".  There is no such thing as calling too often. We are here to help you. All information given to the Poison Center is confidential.

Why would I be put on hold by a Poison Center?

The poison center has 6 incoming emergency lines and 1-4 Specialists handling calls at a time. The Specialist determines which caller's situation is most critical and handles that one first.  We will handle each call in as short a period of time that allows for thorough and safe care. We consider all of our calls to be important and there are no "stupid" calls, but since we are an emergency phone line we must take life-threatening calls first. You may also be put on hold if we need to research a question you have asked or seek an opinion from a medical toxicologist or consultant.

What if I prefer to get help online?

Now there are two ways to get help for a poison emergency:

Both are free and confidential. Both provide expert guidance based on age, weight, and amount.


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