Over 70,000 Illinois residents call the IPC from home, work or other location every year for help regarding a potentially harmful substance. However if you’ve never called our poison center, you may be wondering how we do things around here. Below are answers to some common questions that we hope will increase your knowledge and familiarity about calling the poison center.
What can I call the poison center for?
Any substance can be potentially toxic or harmful if taken in the wrong amount or by the wrong person. Here are some examples of the many things you can call the IPC for:
- Drugs and medications (prescription, over-the-counter, illegal/recreational or veterinary)
- Household and personal care products
- Chemicals (home, work or play)
- Vitamins and supplements
- Plants (mushrooms, indoor and outdoor plants)
- Bites/stings (bug, snake, animal)
- Environmentals (bioterrorism, pollution, gases)
- Food poisonings
- Basically…anything that has or can give you an unexpected and/or unwanted reaction!
What should I do before I call?
Nothing! Call the IPC immediately if you or someone you know may have been exposed to a potentially harmful or toxic substance. Call us even if you aren’t sure…don’t wait for symptoms to occur! Have the bottle or container of the substance handy when you call, if possible. DO NOT induce vomiting or give the patient anything until you talk to the poison center.
How long will it take for someone to answer my call?
The average time it takes for a specialist to answer your call is 20 seconds.
Who will I be talking to?
The IPC staff are health care professionals (nurses, pharmacists and physicians and other poison information providers) who are specially trained in toxicology. They have an average of over 10 years of toxicology experience each. Fact: 25% of IPC cases come from healthcare professionals seeking toxicology advice for their patients. ER and ICU doctors, pediatricians, nurses, and pharmacists all over the state trust our experts and so should you. You can be sure that you will be speaking to someone who has handled many, many poisoning exposures before. You should never feel embarrassed or ashamed to call, because we really have heard it all!
What will the specialist ask me?
In order to assess the situation, we will need to know the patient’s age, weight, allergies, pre-existing health conditions and any medications they are normally on. We will ask how long ago the exposure occurred (if this is known), any symptoms the patient is currently having and also ask questions to estimate how much of the substance has been ingested. Once we have all this information, we will use our experience combined with the most up-to-date toxicology information and resources to determine the best plan of action.
What sort of personal information do I have to provide?
We will ask for your name and phone number so we can create a medical record. This medical record is treated with the same level of protection and privacy as the one at your doctor’s office; however, if you would prefer not to give this information, you do not have to. We will also ask you for your zip code; we use this data to study, research and monitor the frequency of poisoning in geographic areas throughout the state.
What will the specialist tell me to do?
It depends on the substance and the situation. Every case is different. Luckily, we are able to manage 90% of poison exposure calls from the general public at the site of exposure with simple, over-the-phone instructions (meaning no need for a hospital or doctor’s office visit). We may also call you back to ensure things are progressing as expected. In fact, we make over 60,000 follow-up calls a year. Sometimes, we do refer patients to a health care facility for treatment. Some poisonings are too serious or potentially serious to be handled over the phone and need to be evaluated in person by a physician. Part of what we do is determine which 90% can be managed at the site of exposure and which 10% need more serious evaluation. If we do recommend that you go to the emergency room, we will ask which hospital is closest to you. That way, when you are on your way to the hospital, we can call ahead to let the hospital staff know that you are coming and what to do for you when you get there. In rare cases and when necessary, we will tell you to call 911 for an ambulance.
Do you report my personal information to any government or regulatory agencies?
No. We do not call DCFS, Immigration, the police or any other agency, nor are we a part of any local, state, or federal government agency. Your call to us is confidential.
How much does it cost to call the poison center?
Your cost is free – no charge. Our non-profit program is supported through federal, state, and foundation grants, hospital contributions and private donations. If you have any other questions just give us a call, we’re here to help 24/7/365 – 1800-222-1222. And if you’ve called the Illinois Poison Center before, tell us your story. Click here to share your experience. Download the free Poison Help App for your IPhone today and have our number at your finger-tips!