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Poison Awareness in California

Almost anything can be a poison depending on the substance and exposure. We encounter many types of substances that can be poisonous in our daily lives. Common items that can be poisonous include:

  • Medicines
  • Household products
  • Plants and mushrooms
  • Insects and critters

What to do During a Poison Exposure

  1. Remain calm.

  2. For people with life-threatening symptoms like unconsciousness, uncontrollable shaking, or any difficulty breathing, call 911.

  3. For non life-threatening symptoms, call the Poison Control Hotline at 1-800-222-1222.

About Calling the Poison Hotline

Our poison experts are ready to help and answer any poison-related questions or concerns 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year with language interpreter services available in over 200 languages.

It is always best to have every poison exposure, whether mild or severe, evaluated by the Poison Hotline staff. They can provide reassurance and peace of mind. The toll-free Poison Hotline is:

  • Fast: Our staff will answer your phone call immediately.
  • Free: There is no charge. You can call as many times as you need.
  • Expert: You will receive help from an actual person. Staff who answer the phone are pharmacists, nurses, doctors, and specialists in poison information.
  • Private: Your personal information is not shared with anyone. We ask you for your name and phone number so we can call back to make sure you are OK.

When to call the Poison Hotline

Call the toll-free Poison Hotline at 1-800-222-1222:

  • If you have a poison-related question.
  • If you or someone else touches, tastes, breathes, or swallows something that could be harmful. 

What will the Poison Hotline staff ask?

Careful evaluation of all the information related to a poison exposure will allow the Poison Hotline staff to determine if a call presents a serious risk. Callers might be asked for the following information:

  • What substance or poison was involved
  • The amount
  • Type of the exposure (on the skin versus in the mouth)
  • Length of time of the exposure
  • Age, weight, and health status of the patient

Once the information is gathered, the Poison Hotline experts will calculate the amount of the exposure compared to body weight of the patient. They might look up the substance in the computer for more information. This information will determine the toxicity of the case. Using that information, the poison expert will make treatment recommendations. Each full-time Poison Hotline staff person handles about 5,000 poisoning cases each year. They will know, very quickly, if your case is only a mild exposure or if it is potentially life-threatening.

Are all the calls recorded?

Yes, all calls are recorded. No personal or confidential information, such as names or phone numbers, are ever provided to a national database. Like 9-1-1 calls, all calls to the Poison Hotline are recorded. Poison Center calls, like medical records, are kept confidential. Information regarding the call is entered into a computer database. This provides general information for national statistics regarding age and sex of the victim, name of product, treatment, and the zip code where the call originated. Callbacks are made to determine the outcome. Outcome information is provided to agencies that regulate consumer safety issues.

What if I don’t want to give my name and phone number?

Callers who refuse to provide basic information, such as names and phone numbers, to the Poison Hotline staff will be advised to contact their physician for assistance. For legal reasons, medical or poison information advice cannot be provided to anonymous callers to the Poison Hotline. Helping callers is the main concern of the Poison Hotline staff. Our team of poison experts will never place callers on a “bad parent” or “frequent caller” list. Unless you tell the Poison Hotline staff that you have called before, they won’t know, as there are about 300,000 calls to the California Poison Control System every year. 

What is a Poison?

A poison is a substance that can harm your body if you touch, taste, breathe, or get it into your bloodstream. Poisoning is the number one leading cause of injury related deaths in the United States. 

Who gets poisoned?

Although anyone can experience poison exposure, young children are at the greatest risk. Almost half of the calls to the Poison Hotline involve children under the age of six years.

Why children?

  • Young children are curious.
  • They explore by putting things into their mouths.
  • Their sense of taste and smell is not fully developed. 
  • They do not always learn something is dangerous the first time they come across it.

What can be poisonous to your child?

Anything that causes harm if you touch, taste, breath, or get it into your bloodstream.

  • Medicines (both prescription and non-prescription)
  • Vitamins and supplements
  • Cleaning products
  • Pesticides
  • Personal care products like cosmetics
  • Button batteries or small objects that children can choke on
  • Plants
  • Insects, animals, and critters
  • Drugs of abuse

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