Medical / First Aid Safety Advice

Got Poison Control? (

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I was recently listening to a podcast by Radiolab on the Poison Control Center at; you can learn more about that particular episode here. In that episode I learned some interesting things, like how many centers there are (55), how many calls they get per year (around 80,000 per call center), and how it got started which I found rather fascinating.

More importantly, however, it got me to poking around their website and I found quite a bit of useful information. In addition, they now have a web-based poison control questionnaire that you can use to lookup information about exposure rather than calling their 1-800-222-1222 number. Personally, I don’t know if I would be able to stay THAT composed to wade my way through a set of online questions like this, at least, not without a calm, reassuring voice on the other end which, incidentally, is one of THE most important “services” that the Poison Control Center seems to provide.

In any case, I was curious as to how the tool worked and, so, I decided to try it out (there’s an option to just test the tool, if you like), pretending that an eight year old boy took too much extra-strength Tylenol. After some trial and error I was able to find something similar to what I wanted, but there were so many choices–no matter how I refined my initial search–that if I actually had to find the right drug my make-believe child swallowed, it would be a nightmare. Ultimately, I just chose something at the top of the list. After some additional tedious questions (like wanting my email address and zip code) I came away with an answer. Apparently, he will be fine. In my opinion, this web-based tools needs some serious refining to be of any use. In the meantime, stick with calling 1-800-222-1222.

[FYI, their web-based tool is also a smartphone app. Although I haven’t tried the app yet, it seems you can use the app to scan the barcode of a product for fast identification, which sounds a lot better than trying to wade through hundreds of options online.]

Fortunately, they do have other interesting services, like a pill identifier (these come in handy on occasion), a ton of poison-prevention tips, including tips by age and by season, as well as quite a few good poisoning first aid tips to know. And, if you’re in a hurry, their Act Fast page is a good one to bookmark because it gives you some quick advice on what to do if the poison was swallowed, got in the eye, on the skin, or was inhaled.

They also have quite a bit about batteries. Apparently, button-sized batteries are still the biggest culprit, especially with infants and toddlers. They have a lot of detailed information about how batteries actually cause problems–most of it is super boring–but I did find this battery triage guideline informative, though, I’m now more paranoid of button-sized batteries than I should be at my age, lol.

Ultimately, there’s a lot of good information on their website. I would encourage you to take some time and peruse what they have. I’m sure you’ll find plenty you didn’t know and something that could save a life one day!

By Damian Brindle

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