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US poison control receives millions of calls a year — and though they're there to help you if the worst happens, many poisoning cases can be prevented with the right precautionary steps. This Poison Prevention Week, make sure you know what they are.

What would you do if your elderly dad confused your antidepressants for his blood pressure meds? If your toddler got into the cleaning supplies and reported that the "juice tasted funny", or the kid you were babysitting swallowed a button battery? Or what if you go to check in on your neighbors, only to find the fireplace burning and them dizzy and weak? 

All of these scenarios are scary as hell, and all of them happen. Though people poison themselves accidentally and on purpose all year round, the third week of March marks National Poison Prevention Week — your annual reminder to avoid poisoning but to be prepared if someone around you does poison themselves. 

What do you need to know to prevent poisoning and to act fast should the worst happen? 

1. You're not alone: Poison Control is there to help

The American Association of Poison Control Centers — or simply poison control — is an amazing national voluntary organization that has been serving the US since 1958 with the help of 55 poison control centers distributed across the country. By calling 1-800-222-1222 or heading over to the US poison control website, you can get confidential, free, and fast advice on what to do next in case of a suspected poisoning. 

Because the kind of first aid you should be administering isn't always intuitive and an ambulance can take a little while to show up, calling poison control quickly can save lives. 

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you need to call poison control, be prepared with detailed information that will help the person on the other end of the line help you. They'll want to know the age of the person you're calling for, receive a complete picture of their symptoms, and their health history. They'll also, of course, need as much info as you can give about the circumstances of the (suspected) poisoning. If there's a container or bottle, keep it handy and answer all the questions. 

You don't have to wait for an emergency to check out the poison control website, however — it offers a wealth of information about all poisons under the sun, how to handle them safely, and what not to do. Because prevention is still better than cure, we'd like to encourage you to make use of this wonderful resource this National Poison Prevention Week. 

2. What are the most common ways to be poisoned?

In 2018, US poison control received over two million calls about poisoning in humans. Many of those calls are ultimately about situations that don't turn out to be dangerous at all, or only mildly so. (Don't be worried about calling even if you only suspect poisoning!) About 10 percent of the calls poison control receives are about poisoning cases that could be very serious or fatal, however. 

Children under six are most commonly poisoned by:

  • Cosmetics and other personal hygiene products. 
  • Household cleaning supplies. 
  • Painkillers. 
  • An assortment of toys and random foreign objects — yes, we're still talking about poison, and not just any injury. 
  • Topical medications.
  • Antihistamines. 
  • Vitamins, dietary supplements, herbal medications, and homeopathic medication. 

Scary, right? There's no home that doesn't feature at least one of these items, after all, and you yourself might even have all of them. Are they securely out of your kids' reach, or the reach of kids who may visit your home? 

While poison control centers report that a really large number of their total calls is about children, people of all ages can be poisoned. Most of the time — 76.7 percent, to be exact — poisoning is accidental. But it can also be the result of abuse, or a suicide attempt. The risk of these kinds of poisonings rises with age. 

The list of most common sources of poisoning looks very different for adults (over 20). They're most likely to be poisoned by painkillers, sedatives, hypnotics, or antipsychotics, antidepressants, cardiovascular meds, household cleaning supplies (curiously), alcohol, anticonvulsant medications, illicit drugs, and pesticides. 

3. What can you do to prevent poisoning in your home?

Poisoning danger quite literally lurks all around us, every single day — and no age group is immune. Some of the best things you can do to slash the risk that anyone will suffer from poisoning in your home include:

  • Make sure you have working carbon monoxide alarms everywhere in your home where people sleep. 
  • Keep your stoves, fireplaces, furnaces, and appliances well-maintained. 
  • Keep any medications you have in your home in their original packaging, so people know what they are. Keep all medications, as well as vitamin supplements and herbal remedies, out of reach of children or anyone else who may inadvertently ingest them (like seniors with dementia), and use child-resistant packaging. 
  • Store household cleaning supplies and other chemicals away from children. This includes things you use for your car, paint, and craft supplies like glue. 
  • Keep button batteries away from children. This includes the devices that house them.
  • Safely dispose of expired medication and supplements by mixing them with kitty litter before throwing them away, or turning them in at Drug Take-Back events.
  • If you live in an older home, built before 1978, have it checked for lead paint.
  • Be aware that not all poisoning cases are accidental. Talk to your preteens and teens about inhalant addiction, and know how to recognize the signs. If anyone in your home is experiencing suicidal feelings, seek medical help right away.

4. Poison control could one day save your life, or the life of someone you love. Consider donating!

Some people may not be aware that the American Association of Poison Control Centers is not a government agency. It's a voluntary organization that relies on donations to keep on providing its life-saving assistance. Poison control could one day save your life, or the life of someone you love. Less dramatically, it could also provide first-aid instructions that simply make a non-deadly poisoning case less of a worry, or even just reassure you when you're worried sick about something that doesn't turn out to be dangerous at all. 

Poison control is an invaluable resource, and it relies on you. This National Poison Prevention Week, consider making a donation to poison control

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