When to Call Poison Control Instead of a Pediatrician

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When should you call poison control if your child is poisoned? Many parents might think that is a silly question since the answer seems obvious—you just call poison control, right?

But there are a lot of things that get in the way that makes the question a lot more complicated and confuse parents, so that in a moment of panic, instead of remaining calm and simply calling poison control, they do other things that can delay their child from getting the proper treatment they need.

What Is a Poison?

Understanding what exactly a poison is confused a lot of parents since many only think of rat poison or insecticide.

However, dangerous poisons include poisonous plants, including some wild mushrooms, foxglove, pokeweed, holly berries, and pokeweed, and household poisons, such as mouthwash, nail glue remover, drain cleaners, oven cleaners, lamp oil, antifreeze, furniture polish, cough and cold medicines, iron, blood pressure medicines, carbon monoxide, and lead paint.

Poisoning & More

In addition, poison control centers are staffed with experts who know how to handle snake bites, spider bites, and insect stings that may be poisonous, button battery ingestions, and even food poisoning.

First Step With a Poisoning

In most cases, if your child is poisoned, you should just call poison control right away using the toll-free nationwide number:


You should not wait for your child to have symptoms, even if you aren't positive if your child actually swallowed any of the poison, or if you aren't sure if it really is poisonous.

Don't call your pediatrician first to ask for advice on what to do. If your child had contact with something that could be poisonous, your best bet is to just call poison control.

In certain cases, like if your child is having seizures, is not breathing, or is unresponsive, then, of course, you should call 911 instead.

First Aid Steps for Poisoning

The National Capital Poison Center recommends the following first aid steps:

  • Swallowed Poisons
  • The product swallowed is burning, irritating or caustic AND the person is conscious, not having convulsions, and able to swallow.
  • Call poison control.
  • Inhaled Poisons
  • Get your child to fresh air.
  • Call poison control.
  • Poisons on the Skin
  • Remove your child's contaminated clothing.
  • Rinse your child's skin with water for at least 15 minutes.
  • Call poison control.
  • Poisons in the Eye
  • Irrigate your child's eye with lukewarm water for 15 to 20 minutes using running water or slowly pouring water from a pitcher.
  • Let the water hit the bridge of the nose and gently run into the eyes rather than pouring the water directly into the eye. Encourage blinking.
  • Call poison control.

Calling Poison Control

When calling poison control, it can be helpful to have the name of the product or medicine that you suspect that your child was exposed to, how they were exposed (did they swallow it, inhale it or just get it on their skin, etc.), how much were they exposed to, and the current symptoms he is having.

You will likely also be asked for your child's age and weight, whether or not he has any medical problems, and a callback number, so have this information handy.

Most Dangerous Poisonings

Certainly, some poisonings are more dangerous than others, but the most important thing to keep in mind is that many substances can be dangerous, surprisingly so. Always call poison control - even if you are pretty certain that something is not poisonous. That said, some of the most serious poisonings involve cleaning supplies, lighter fluid, windshield washer fluid, antifreeze, vitamins, and medications.

Prevention Facts

Other facts about poison control and prevention include that:

  • There is no charge for calling poison control and they are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
  • National Poison Prevention Week is observed during the third week of March each year.
  • "Childproof" caps on medicines are not really childproof. They are simply child-resistant and most kids will eventually get them opened, so you should still keep them out of reach and be sure to regularly clean out your medicine cabinet to reduce the number of medicines that you have in your home.

Most importantly, keep in mind that although poison control is always available to help if your child is poisoned, it is much better to try and prevent poisonings by keeping your home well-childproofed. Check out these tips to make sure you have done everything possible to childproof your home.

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  1. National Capital Poison Center. Poison & Prevention Information By Substance.

  2. National Capital Poison Center. First Aid for Poisonings.

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Poison Prevention & Treatment Tips. Updated February 16, 2021.

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