Poisonings affect people of all ages

People of all ages call the poison centerEvery day poison centers receive calls from and about people of every age, from infants to people in their 80s and beyond. Some types of poisoning are more common at specific ages, while others are common at every stage of life, such as medication errors.

Medication errors happen when someone accidentally uses medication in a way other than how it is intended. For a young child, it could be a parent or caregiver giving the wrong medication or too much for the child’s weight. A teen or adult might take someone else’s medication by mistake. For an older adult, it could be taken a morning medication in the evening.

Here’s a look at other common reasons people call the poison center for different ages:

  • Children 3 years old and younger: Most calls in this age group are because children are crawling or walking around and putting things in their mouths or spilling things on themselves.
  • Preschool and elementary-aged children: This age group is less likely to get poisoned, but may swallow things or put things on their skin while testing boundaries or responding to dares.
  • Teenagers: Teens may become poisoned while trying to get high or in attempts to harm themselves. These reasons for poisoning continue into adult ages, and most calls about these types of poisonings come from hospitals looking for poison center advice in treating the patient.
  • Adults: Adults may breathe in chemicals or get them on their skin at work. This can happen in almost any profession, not just industrial jobs.
  • Older adults: As people age they may start to take multiple medications, often prescribed by different doctors. Poisonings sometimes happen when a person takes a medication that interacts with another medication or with a health condition.

These are just some of the reasons you may find yourself in need of the poison center. It just goes to show, no matter what your age, whether you’re a parent or not, it pays to have the poison center number handy. Store 1-800-222-1222 in your phone today. And remember you can also contact us 24/7 by live online chat.

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Why do parents call the poison center?

Kids act fast, but fortunately so do poison centers. A call to the poison center is your instant connection to an expert, which can be especially handy if you’re a parent. We can provide peace of mind within minutes.

Every year, about 2 out of every 5 calls to the poison center are about children 5 years old or younger.

Pediatric Exposures by Age
Among young children, 1- and 2-year-olds are the most likely to make their parents or caregivers pick up the phone and call 1-800-222-1222. Children this age are exploring their environment, often by putting things in their mouths. You might be surprised by all the things kids can get into, but we’ve heard nearly everything.

Here’s a look at what kids were most likely to get into at their home or someone else’s in 2015.

Pediactric Exposure Substances Pie Chart
Calling the poison center can also save you a long wait in the emergency room. In 19 out of 20 cases, young children who get into possible poisons in the home can be safely treated right there with poison center advice – saving you lots of time.

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Some household products can be poisonous

Putting medicine up high
Keeping medications up high is just one of the steps you can take to help prevent poisonings at home. (Image from the Up and Away campaign)

Did you know most poisonings happen at home? Every day we use products to keep our cars working, our homes clean and our bodies healthy. Most of these products have gotten safer over the years. However, some still can be poisonous to people or animals if used in the wrong way. Here are some basic steps you can take to keep your family and pets safe:

Use everyday products safely:

  • Keep products in their original containers with the cap on tight.
  • Store up high, out of sight of children and pets, and away from food and drink.
  • Read the label before using the product each time.
  • Get rid of unwanted products safely. There may be instructions on the product label, or you can try calling your town office or local waste disposal facility.
  • Store the poison center number, 1-800-222-1222, in your cell phone. You can call us with questions or if something unexpected happens.

Here are just a few household items that can be poisonous if used in the wrong way:

  • Acids and alkalis, such as toilet and drain cleaners and hair relaxers
  • Alcohol-containing products, such as hand sanitizer, mouthwash and perfume or cologne
  • Automotive products like antifreeze, windshield wiper fluid and gasoline
  • Button or disc batteries
  • Certain glues and adhesives, such as epoxy
  • Household cleaners like furniture polish, pine oil and laundry detergent or pods
  • Medications
  • Pesticides, such as mothballs and rat poison

Remember, the poison center is here 24/7 to help you treat possible poisonings, or just to answer your questions. Call 1-800-222-1222 or chat online.

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Calling the poison center: My child ate toothpaste

In September we looked at what you can expect when you call the poison center. This month we’ll show you how a call might sound. The example here is pretty common—what do you do if your child got into the toothpaste? With brightly colored packages and kid-friendly flavors, it’s no wonder this happens a lot!

As you’ll see reading the script, having the tube with you when you contact the poison center (1-800-222-1222 or chat online) can be really helpful. Some toothpaste is fluoride-free “training” toothpaste for young children, while most kinds have fluoride to fight cavities.

Toothpaste photo by Mauren Veras, Creative Commons

Poison Center: Poison center. How may I help you?

Caller: Hi, I found my daughter eating toothpaste out of the tube and I’m not sure if I should be worried.

PC: OK, how old is your daughter?

Caller: 3 years old

PC: And how much does she weigh?

Caller: About 30 or 35 pounds

PC: How long ago did she swallow the toothpaste?

Caller: It was probably about 5 minutes ago

PC: What is the name of the toothpaste? Can you read me the active ingredient on the label?

Caller: It’s “Dora the Explorer” from Colgate. It says it has 0.24% sodium fluoride, 0.15% fluoride ion.

PC: How much do you think she swallowed?

Caller: There’s still a lot left in the tube, so I wouldn’t think much. Maybe a tablespoon?

PC: How does she look? Any complaints?

Caller: No, she looks fine. She’s playing right now.

PC: OK, I’m going to do a quick calculation.

(caller briefly placed on hold)

PC: Your daughter is going to be fine. Just have her drink a glass of milk. Call back if she gets an upset stomach or throws up.

Caller: Great. Thanks so much!

Since toothpaste-related poisonings depend on how much the child weighs and how much fluoride they swallowed, a call like this can save hours of worry and unnecessary trip to the emergency room. Visit our poison index for more information on fluoride.

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Is it safe to give your child Orajel or Anbesol?

Baby with teething toysThe FDA no longer recommends over-the-counter teething relief products that contain benzocaine, which is a medication that numbs pain. Though it’s rare, swallowing benzocaine can cause a dangerous condition called methemoglobinemia, in which not enough oxygen is carried in the blood.

What are some ways that you can relieve your child’s teething pain, without using numbing medications like Orajel or Anbesol?

  • Give them something hard and cool to chew on. Make sure it is clean, and large enough they can’t choke on it, and supervise them closely. Some possibilities are a frozen teething ring, frozen bagel, popsicle, chilled pacifier or frozen wet washcloth.
  • Gently massage their gums.
  • Give them some over-the-counter pain relieving medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil).  Always check with your child’s doctor before giving medication.
  • Comfort and distract your child. Sing a favorite song, read a book, rock your child, or gently message them. Breastfeeding can also help.

If you have given your child an over-the-counter medication that contains benzocaine, or if you have question about the risk of using these products, call the poison center at 1-800-222-1222 or chat online.

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Medication safety: Put the cap on

Oops! This medication bottle has been left out with the cap off
Oops! A member of the NNEPC team came home to find this scene
while their spouse was giving medicine to one of the kids.
Medication with the cap on
That’s better! For safety, put the cap back on your medication
bottle as soon as possible.

Where do you store your medication?

If you answered up high and out of children’s reach, congratulations! You are off to a great start with medication safety.

But what do you do with medication while you are using it?

The NNEPC receives many calls about young children who get into medication that has just been used, but left out, often with the cap off. A study from Safe Kids looking at poison center calls and emergency department visits also found that this is a common scenario.

To help keep children from getting into medication, always put the cap back on as soon as you are finished with the medication, and put it away, up high and out of reach, as soon as possible.

If a child does get into medication, call the poison center at 1-800-222-1222 or chat online. Most of these cases can be safely managed with fast, expert help from the poison center, helping you avoid a visit to the emergency room.

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What happens when you call the poison center?

Concerned parentMany people who call the poison center are understandably worried, but the good news is nearly 9 out of every 10 calls from home can be safely managed with fast, expert help from our poison specialists, without needing to go to the hospital or doctor’s office.

When you get on the phone with a poison specialist, there are a few things they will want to know to help you:

  • How old is the patient?
  • About how much does the patient weigh?
  • What is the name of the product or substance involved? Be as specific as you can—it can help to have the bottle or packaging with you on the phone. Poison experts use a database that contains detailed information on thousands of products.
  • How much of the substance did the patient swallow, breathe in or get on their skin? If you don’t know, the poison specialist will help you estimate.

The Dose Makes the PoisonBased on this information, the poison specialist will tell you what you need to do. It could be as simple as drinking some water or eating a popsicle. In rare circumstances, they may need to send you to the hospital. If so, they will ask which hospital you are closest to and call ahead to let them know you are coming.

You may be placed on hold at some point during your call to the poison center. Don’t worry—the poison specialist will be right back with you.

The poison center will also collect a little bit of personal information from you for your medical chart—your first name, the patient’s first name, your phone number and the zip code you are calling from. This information is confidential. This information is important because it helps us to find your case if you ever need to call about it again for any reason.

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Have you seen this mushroom?

Amanita MuscariaWe’ve had a number of cases in the last few days of young children getting into amanita muscaria or similar mushrooms in the yard. These can make kids sick.

If your child or pet eats some of a wild mushroom, give us a call at 1-800-222-1222 or chat online.

If you have young children, it’s a good idea to try to remove wild mushrooms from your yard as well.Amanita Muscaria

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Antidote management

If you are a health care provider, the Northern New England Poison Center is your local resource for antidote management. We can help with the medical management of patients who require a specific antidote or antivenom, and can also assist in finding antidotes or suggest other options if there is a shortage.


Like other pharmaceuticals, antidotes are occasionally subject to shortages. What makes these situations more difficult is that there are often few other options for patients for whom a specific antidote is indicated. Despite the Orphan Drug Act that provides some financial incentive for manufacturers, the relatively small population served by these drugs makes them less financially appealing to pharmaceutical companies. This can result in a less than robust response to a shortage.

The following article reviews the current drug shortage environment, offers policy recommendations to reduce shortages or diminish their impact.

Antidote Shortages in the USA: Impact and Response, Journal of Medical Toxicology (2015) 11:144-146
American College of Medical Toxicology and American Academy of Clinical Toxicology

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Driving and medications don’t always mix

For many of us, driving is part of our everyday routine, whether it’s getting to work, running errands or visiting friends and family. But certain medications can make it unsafe for a person to drive because they can cause side effects or reactions.

These effects can be most pronounced when you are starting a new medication or changing the dosage of a medication you already take. Side effects can also happen when you stop taking a medication. Talk to your doctor when there are changes in your medications or your health to see how they may affect your driving.

Cars in traffic
Photo by epSos.de, Creative Commons 3.0

Common effects that can make it unsafe to drive include:

  • Sleepiness
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Slowed movements or reactions
  • Fainting
  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Confusion
  • Jitters

The label on your medication may recommend not driving if these side effects or reactions are likely. Common medications that may make it unsafe to drive include:

  • Medications for anxiety, depression or other psychiatric conditions
  • Opioid pain medications or products containing codeine
  • Sleep aids
  • Cold and allergy products
  • Medications for diabetes

It is not safe to drive if you are tired or drowsy, or feel “off.” If you are tired or drowsy, taking a stimulant such as caffeine (NoDoz, Vivarin, etc.), ephedrine or pseudoephedrine does not make it safe to drive.

What if you need to drive, but are taking one of these medications?

Talk to your health care provider. They may be able to change the dosage or when you need to take the medication. They may also be able to suggest a medication that is safer to use when driving.

If you have questions about medications, contact the poison center for fast and expert help. Call us at 1-800-222-1222 or chat online.

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