Help and FAQs

What's a "Poison Exposure"?

Toxicologists use the term "poison exposure" instead of "poisoning" to refer to an incident involving a person who swallows or comes in contact with a substance that might be poisonous. Contact could be swallowing, splashed in the eyes or on the skin, breathed in, or injected. Often the substance isn't as toxic as one initially thinks it might be, or the amount taken is so low that no bad effect is expected. Since symptoms may not develop, technically these exposures can't be called "poisonings".

When should I use the tool?

If you took too much of a medicine, swallowed something that might be poisonous, splashed a product on your eye or skin, or inhaled fumes,  can help you decide if it's safe to stay home, or if a call to Poison Control or visit to an emergency room is required. Use  if the exposed person meets all these criteria:

  • No serious symptoms. If the individual collapses, has a seizure, has trouble breathing or can't be awakened, call 911 right away.
  • Most substances. webPOISONCONTROL can help whether it's a drug or medicine, household product, flower, leaf, berry, seed, bite or sting, or an inhaled gas.
  • Single substances (only one product) involved. The drug or product can have multiple ingredients, but  can't handle multiple drugs or products until we develop the logic for interactions and additive effects.
  • Unintentional. No self-harm or suicide attempts. When self-harm is involved, immediate evaluation by a healthcare provider, usually in an ER, is always advised.  
  • Age 6 months to 79 years. Special issues arise in the very young or in older adults.
  • Not pregnant! We haven't addressed risks to the fetus or the pregnant mom.
  • Otherwise healthy. If you have a serious pre-existing medical condition, don't use this tool. Call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 instead to make sure there are no special considerations for your disease.
  • Human. Don't use this tool for your pets! Toxicity differs between species.

In August 2016, The American Journal of Emergency Medicine published an article titled "webPOISONCONTROL: can poison control be automated?" The article analyzed the first 9,256 webPOISONCONTROL cases. The study found the app is safe, quick and easy to use. More than 121,000 people have used webPOISONCONTROL to get expert help online in a poison emergency.

When can't I use the  tool?

Don't use this tool if you (or the exposed person) are:

  • Younger than 6 months or older than 79 years
  • Pregnant
  • Suicidal or intending self-harm
  • A pet
  • More than one product involved.

When should I call Poison Control instead of using the  tool?

If this tool doesn't address your problem, or if you'd rather talk to a real person, don't hesitate to call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 for immediate and expert assistance (U.S. only).  If you're already in a panic, there's no substitute for the calming voice of a specialist. So don't hesitate to pick up the phone and call Poison Control when you need help. 

How long does it take to enter my case and get a recommendation?

It usually takes less than 3 minutes. It could take a bit longer if you don't know the age or weight of the exposed person, the name of the product, or the amount.

Is there a charge?

Use of the  tool is free. Download it to your smart phone, too. On your smart phone you can scan the barcode of a product that was swallowed to make it faster to determine the specific substance.

What information will I need to provide?

The  tool determines how dangerous an exposure is based on the information you give us. You'll be asked to provide the following:
  • Substance (Product name and strength if it is a medication)
  • Amount 
  • Age
  • Weight
  • Time since exposure
  • Zip code
  • Email

Why am I asked for a zip code and email address?

We ask for your zip code so we can get your case to the right local poison center in case more help is needed. Your poison center can assist you more quickly if their experts already have a summary of your case. 

We use your email address to follow-up with you and make sure that everything is OK. Based on the substance and time since the exposure, we'll tell you when you should expect emails from us, and these are usually limited to the first day or two after the exposure occurred. Once you are beyond the point of any risk from the substance, based on what we know about the timing of effects from that substance, we'll stop sending emails. We promise! 

You will never be required to enter your name or mailing address, but if we refer you to a hospital, we'll give you a chance to give us your name and the name of the hospital so your poison center can assist the doctors with your care.  

How is my case summary and personal information used?

We protect your privacy. You case information resides within our application and is handled as confidential medical information. That's a double layer of privacy protection since in most cases, we don't even ask for your name. We share your blinded case information with your local poison center, but if you are sent to an ER or admitted to a hospital, your local poison center may share the information with the doctors and nurses who are taking care of you in order to facilitate your care.  We will never use your information for commercial purposes.  (See our Privacy Policy for more information.)

What if I am unsure of the product … the amount … or something else?

We try to help you through the assessment process by providing you with pictures of the product, helping you narrow down unknown weights or amounts, displaying a summary of what you told us, and asking additional questions when you are unsure how to respond. 
  • If you aren't sure of the amount but can provide a reasonable estimate, always estimate high to be safe. 
  • If you aren't sure of the weight of the exposed person but can provide a reasonable estimate, always estimate low to be safe. Of course, if you have a scale, use it!

In some cases it may be easier to call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 (U.S. only).

How do I order poison prevention stickers, magnets, or other materials?

Most U.S. poison centers provide free phone stickers, refrigerator magnets, and poison prevention brochures and posters, but provide them only for residents of their designated service area. Call 1-800-222-1222 to reach your poison center and ask for instructions on ordering materials in your state. Call during normal business hours.

Poisoned? Get Expert Help.

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or CALL 1-800-222-1222

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