Poison control center: 65 years of preventing illness and death

The Kentucky Poison Control Center of Norton Children’s Hospital has been reducing illness and death from poisoning for 65 years. These seven poisons are among the more surprising.

The Kentucky Poison Control Center of Norton Children’s Hospital has been working to reduce illness and death from poisoning in Kentucky for 65 years. The center provides 24/7 free and confidential access to specially trained nurses, pharmacists and physicians. The nurses are nationally certified specialists in poison information, and the physicians are board certified in medical toxicology.

They are specialists in communicating advice to health care professionals, first responders, patients, parents, family members, the general public and the media. Some of the more common calls received involve medications, tobacco products, household cleaning products, plants and personal care items. Calls also are answered about work-related exposures in farming and industry, food poisoning, insect and snake bites, and a variety of other potential hazards.

“Our No. 1 goal is to educate the public about potential poison hazards in and around their home,” said Ashley N. Webb, board-certified toxicologist and director of the Kentucky Poison Control Center. “We want them to know that if a child or adult is exposed to a poison, the poison control center should be called as soon as possible.”

Here are some of the more surprising poisons the center has run across while handling, on average, one call every 10 minutes from across the state.

Magnets and batteries

Button or disc batteries can cause severe burns in the esophagus if swallowed. Swallowing a single magnet can be a choking hazard, but if more than one magnet is swallowed or a magnet is swallowed with a piece of metal, it can cause serious and even fatal consequences if the two make contact while in different parts of the bowel.

Your own medication

Even medication you take on a regular basis can be harmful if taken in the wrong amount or at the wrong time. Be sure to follow the dosing instructions on the medication packaging and keep all medication out of reach of children.

Cleaning products

Many products are brightly colored and attractive to children, therefore they should be stored up and out of reach. Adults should use caution when mixing cleaning products, as contact with the eyes can cause simple irritation, damaging abrasions to the surface of the eye or even blindness. If swallowed, many of these products can cause symptoms that may be severe, depending on the product. The poison control center specialists can help you decide on the best course of action if exposed.


Malfunctioning furnaces and fireplaces can produce carbon monoxide, a potentially lethal gas. This is colorless and odorless — a truly silent killer. Make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector on every level of your home.


Consuming excessive caffeine through energy drinks or supplements can lead to toxic levels. Symptoms of caffeine overdose range from vomiting and rapid heartbeat to disorientation, seizures and heart arrhythmias that could be fatal.

Tobacco and nicotine

All tobacco and nicotine products are harmful if swallowed, such as when a child decides to eat a cigarette butt (it happens!). But many nicotine products, including tobacco leaves themselves, are harmful if they come into contact with the skin. Nicotine such as that found in an e-cigarette cartridge or refill bottle can be absorbed through the skin and enter the bloodstream. High levels of nicotine have been fatal.

Natural/homemade products

Cleaning and personal care products labeled as “all natural” or made at home still can be harmful if swallowed. The products and any ingredients used to make them should be stored up and out of reach of children. It may sound safe, but a product such as tea tree oil can make you ill.

Poison control

Visit KYPoisonControl.com, the website of the Kentucky Poison Control Center of Norton Children’s Hospital, for more information about how to prevent poisoning. Our hotline is staffed 24/7.
(800) 222-1222

About the Kentucky Poison Control Center of Norton Children’s Hospital

The Kentucky Poison Control Center serves all 120 counties in Kentucky. Our specially trained staff of nurses, physicians and pharmacists are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to answer questions and respond to emergencies involving possible poisons. Our physicians are board certified in medical toxicology, and our nurses are nationally certified specialists in poison information.

We are always open. Calls to the poison control center are free and confidential.

One of the poison control center’s important roles is to determine if a poisoning exposure requires treatment at a health care facility. More than 75 percent of calls received can be managed without a visit to a hospital emergency room.

More information is available at KYPoisonControl.com.