Who answers my call to Poison Control?
When you call Poison Control, you will speak directly to a poison specialist who is a registered nurse or pharmacist. Poison specialists sit for a national certifying exam to become CSPIs (Certified Specialists in Poison Information) after a year of training. These specialists are available to take your call and to provide expert medical guidance in poison emergencies 24 hours a day. You can call with questions about poison, too, not just poison emergencies. All questions about poisons are smart questions.
What will Poison Control ask when I call?
If possible, bring the medicine, chemical, or household product container to the phone. Provide a quick overview of the situation (for example, "my 3-year-old son just pulled his grandmother's medicine pack out of her suitcase. He had a couple of pills in his mouth but I don't know if he swallowed any.") The poison specialist will then ask you several questions. These questions are necessary to make an accurate assessment of the situation's severity and your answers will determine the treatment information you are given. Once this information is gathered, the poison specialist will determine how serious the situation is and guide you through recommendations for treatment. Some of the questions may include:
- Age of patient. Be exact.
- Presence of symptoms. Let the poison specialist know immediately if the patient is unconscious or is having difficulty breathing (wheezing, bluish color to skin, lips, nails).
- Weight of the patient. Do not guess if you do not know. If you have a scale nearby, you may be asked to weigh the patient. If you do not have a scale and the patient is a child, tell the poison specialist if the child is smaller or larger than average for his age.
- Health history of the patient. Let the poison specialist know if the patient has any medical problems or allergies or takes any 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 poison specialist will need to know the size of the full container.
- The strength of the 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.
- The name, phone number, zip code, and your relationship to the patient (parent, babysitter, etc). The poison specialist will also ask you to confirm your address.
Why does Poison Control need my phone number?
A return phone number is very important in case you are disconnected while speaking with the poison specialist. Also, since Poison Control is providing treatment information by phone (rather than in person) it is very important that we follow up with you to provide more information or guidance if needed.
Will I have a permanent record if I call Poison Control?
We maintain confidential, computerized records of each call. Each call is documented as a medical chart. Do not hesitate to call. There is no such thing as calling too often. We are here to help you. All information given to Poison Control is confidential.
Why would I be put on hold by a poison specialist?
The Poison Center has multiple incoming emergency lines and 1 to 4 poison specialists handling calls at a time. The poison specialist determines which caller's situation is most critical and handles that one first. Each call is handled as quickly as possible while ensuring thorough and safe care. Poison Control considers all calls to be important but since we provide an emergency phone service, life threatening calls are handled first. You may be put on hold if your question needs research or while we seek an opinion from a medical toxicologist.
What if I prefer to get help online?
If you swallowed a poison and don't have any serious symptoms, you can use the webPOISONCONTROL® tool to get treatment recommendations. You can log on to webPOISONCONTROL or download the app on the App Store or Google play for triage advice 24 hours a day.