Poison Control for Childhood Poisonings

History of Poison Prevention

The Poison Help Hotline can help you with any poisoning emergencies.
Program the Poison Help Hotline number -- 1-800-222-1222 -- into your cell phone so that you can quickly get connected to your local poison control center and get help with any poisoning emergencies. Photo Courtesy of U.S. HHS HRSA

Poisonings are very common, occurring in about 2 million people a year, with half of those cases in children under 5 years of age.

Parents are usually instructed to keep the number to poison control number with a list of emergency numbers by the phone. In the past, this meant looking up a number for your local poison center.

To make things easier, a nationwide toll-free number can be used to directly connect you with your local poison control.

The Poison Control nationwide number is:


A local Poison Control Center is usually a better resource than your own pediatrician if you suspect that your child has been poisoned. The poison center is quickly available in an emergency situation and has experts with access to specific information on different types of poisons and other substances that may harm children. But remember that if your child has collapsed or is not breathing, call 911 instead.

History of Poison Prevention

Many of us take calling poison control for granted. It is important to keep in mind that it is only since the 1970s that we have had such a good network of national poison control centers to call for help when children and adults were poisoned. Other important facts about poison prevention include that:

  • the Caustic Poison Act in 1927 required labels on caustic chemicals, such as lye, to warn parents that they were dangerous to children
  • Dr. Jay Arena, a pediatrician at Duke University, became one of the first specialists to provide advice about childhood poisonings in the early 1930s
  • Louis Gdalman, R.Ph. compiled a comprehensive list of toxicological information and took phone calls to provide advice about poisonings in the 1940s, well before there were any poison control centers
  • the first poison control center in the United States was started in 1953 in Chicago by Louis Gdalman, R.Ph. and Edward Press, MD
  • National Clearinghouse for Poison Control Centers established in 1957 to collect data on poisonings
  • the American Association of Poison Control Centers was founded in 1958
  • the Hazardous Substances Labeling Act of 1960 required warning labels on hazardous household products
  • National Poison Prevention Week established in third week in March in 1961
  • the American Academy of Clinical Toxicologists was established in 1968
  • enacted in 1970, the Poison Prevention Packaging Act allowed the Consumer Product Safety Commission to set rules about child-resistant packaging
  • the Emergency Medical Services Systems Act of 1973 funds some new poison control centers
  • tamper-resistant packaging regulations established by the Consumer Product Safety Commission in 1982
  • in 2000, the Poison Control Center Enhancement and Awareness Act mandated the establishment of a nationwide toll-free phone number (1-800-222-1222) to be used to allow easier access to regional poison control centers

    Today, 57 poison control centers receive more than 2.4 million calls about exposure to poisons.

    Calling Poison Control

    Although most people think to call poison control when their child accidentally ingests another family members medicine, or if he drinks a household cleaning product, poison control can also be helpful if your child is bitten by a bee, spider or snake, gets something in his eye, such as spray paint or perfume, has food poisoning, sticks a fork in an electrical socket, or if you accidentally give your child too high a dose of an over the counter medication.

    Remember that a poison is usually defined as 'any substance that can cause harmful effects in the body'.

    The most dangerous poisons include:

    • medications and vitamins (many of which do not come in child-resistant containers)
    • household poisons, especially cleaning supplies, pesticides, and hydrocarbons, such as oil, kerosene lighter fluid, etc. antifreeze
    • carbon monoxide
    • windshield washer fluid

    And remember that prevention is the key to avoiding injuries and death from accidental or preventable ingestions. You can prevent poisoning by keeping household cleaners, chemicals and medicines completely out of reach of your children, always store them in their original container and know the Poison Control Center number (1-800-222-1222).


    Consumer Product Safety Commission. Poison Prevention Packaging: A Guide For Healthcare Professionals. CPSC 384.

    National Research Council. Forging a Poison Prevention and Control System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2004.

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