"Call the poison center immediately, even if you just suspect a poisoning," says Rose Ann Soloway of the National Capital Poison Center.
The center, located at Georgetown University Hospital, provides treatment advice to people who have been poisoned and information on poison prevention.
"We receive over 100 calls a day," said Soloway. When you call the hotline number, 625-3333, the specialist who answers can refer to a computer, a library of hundreds of books on toxicology and files of magazine articles on the latest in poison control.
"We also keep a long list of additional consultants such as veterinary toxicologists," Soloway said. "One family pet parrot had lead poisoning from chewing on a lead drapery weight, and we were able to help."
But most of the calls are about children under 6. "Children are curious and they explore the world with their hands and mouth," said Soloway. "Anything in the hand usually goes into the mouth."
Some of the most common things children get into are medicines, plants, household cleaning products and cosmetics that contain alcohol, such as perfumes and aftershaves. "The most dangerous things are chemicals that cause burns, such as drain cleaners, electric dishwasher detergents and antifreeze," she says.
In an emergency, Soloway recommends calling the poison center first, before calling a physician or going to the emergency room. "You get the most immediate, up-to-date advice that factors in the person's age, weight and how much they took," she says.
For more information on poison prevention, send a business-size, self-addressed, stamped envelope to: National Capital Poison Center, Georgetown University Hospital, 3800 Reservoir Rd. NW, Washington, D.C. 20007.