Help and FAQs about Poison Control

What's a "Poison Exposure"?

Toxicologists use the term "poison exposure" instead of "poisoning" to refer to an incident involving a person who swallows or comes in contact with a substance that might be poisonous. Contact could be swallowing, splashed in the eyes or on the skin, breathed in, or injected. Often the substance isn't as toxic as one initially thinks it might be, or the amount taken is so low that no bad effect is expected. Since symptoms may not develop, technically these exposures can't be called "poisonings".

Two ways to get help for a poisoning:

1.  Use the web POISON CONTROL® online tool to get specific recommendations based on age, substance, and amount, OR 
2.  Call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 for expert guidance.
Both options are free and confidential. Both options give you expert answers.
If the individual collapses, has a seizure, has trouble breathing, or can't be awakened: Call 911 IMMEDIATELY.

When can I use the tool?

If you took too much of a medicine, swallowed something that might be poisonous, splashed a product on your eye or skin, or inhaled fumes,  can help you decide if it's safe to stay home, or if a call to Poison Control or visit to an emergency room is required. Use  if the exposed person meets all these criteria:

  • No serious symptoms. If the individual collapses, has a seizure, has trouble breathing or can't be awakened, call 911 right away.
  • Most substances. web POISON CONTROL can help whether it's a drug or medicine, household product, flower, leaf, berry, seed, bite or sting, or an inhaled gas. 
  • Single substances (only one product) involved. The drug or product can have multiple ingredients, but  can't handle multiple drugs or products until we develop the logic for interactions and additive effects.
  • Taken once. This tool is designed for one-time poison exposures that occur over a short period of time (minutes to a few hours). If you take the medication regularly or if you were exposed chronically or repeatedly, call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 for assistance.
  • Unintentional. No self-harm or suicide attempts. When self-harm is involved, immediate evaluation by a healthcare provider, usually in an ER, is always advised.  
  • Age 6 months to 79 years. Special issues arise in the very young or in older adults.
  • Not pregnant! We haven't addressed risks to the fetus or the pregnant mom.
  • Otherwise healthy. If you have a serious pre-existing medical condition, don't use this tool. Call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 instead to make sure there are no special considerations for your disease.
  • Human. Don't use this tool for your pets! Toxicity differs between species.


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