Tips from the Upstate New York Poison Center
Host Amber Smith: Upstate Medical University in Syracuse New York invites you to be "The Informed Patient" with the podcast that features experts from Central New York's only academic medical center. I'm your host, Amber Smith. It's easy for accidents to happen when families get busy with activities during the holiday season, and typically the Upstate New York Poison Center receives an increase in the number of calls during this time. Here to talk about the sorts of calls that come into the poison center in December is public health educator Mary Beth Dreyer. Welcome to "The Informed Patient," Mrs. Dreyer.
Mary Beth Dreyer: Hi, thanks for having me.
Host Amber Smith: I know that the Poison Center serves 54 counties of Upstate New York from the Canadian border to the Pennsylvania border. And before we talk, let me let listeners know they can reach the Poison Center 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 1 800 - 2 2 2 - 1 2 2 2. And that's a free call, and it's free information. Now are you seeing an increase in calls collectively from all the regions of Upstate New York?
Mary Beth Dreyer: You know, there's definitely times during the year where our call volume increases, and we see an uptick of calls during the month of December from all the 54 counties that we cover.
Host Amber Smith: And what do, do you attribute that just to families and people being busy or are there other reasons?
Mary Beth Dreyer: You know, I do think people are busy. We have a lot on our plates during the month of December. I think that there's a lot of, a lot of people getting sick this time of year too, so things might be a little bit more readily available. So a lot of different things contribute to the increase in calls.
Host Amber Smith: What types of calls do you think you get more in December than other times of the year?
Mary Beth Dreyer: Our No. 1 call last December, and it's turning out for this December as well, for all the ages in our coverage area, is pain medicine. That means an unintentional overdose, taking maybe a double dose of a pain medicine, or a child getting into the wrong medicine.
Host Amber Smith: So if children, in particular, are getting into medications that are accidentally left out because mom has a cold or whatever, or if maybe they get a double dose of a prescription if one parent gives the child the medicine without the telling the other parent, and they accidentally give them a double dose, and the parent calls the poison center for that situation, what can they expect? What does that call go like?
Mary Beth Dreyer: Well, in order to determine what type of care is needed, one of our highly trained nurses or pharmacists that answers our phone calls would ask a number of questions of the parent who calls. They would ask, what has the child eaten or swallowed? How much of it, if it's, you know we can look at a pain medicine bottle and realize, before I saw it was half full and now there's only four or five tablets left. So we would want to know approximately how much of the item a child got into. And also how much the child weighs. And, what's going on? Is the child vomiting? Do they have a fever? Are they having difficulty breathing? So we really try to assess what's happening at that time. So all that information helps our specialists determine what type of care is needed for the child.
Host Amber Smith: What are the general guidelines about when the child may need emergency treatment at the hospital?
Mary Beth Dreyer: Well, anytime a child or a person is having difficulty breathing, they lose consciousness or they're having seizures, it's recommended somebody go to the ER (emergency room.)
Host Amber Smith: Okay. Well you mentioned that they ask about the things that the child ingested. It might not be medication. It could be something else. What are some of the other products that you hear about kids ingesting accidentally?
Mary Beth Dreyer: Well, little kids get into everything, as we know. They're curious, especially toddlers. They like to put things in their mouth. So we get phone calls, yes, about pain medicine, about medicine tablets. A lot of times it looks like candy. But we get calls about possible cleaning products that kids, you know, because they're colorful. They smell good. They might be left unattended on a table because, again, it's a busy time of year. So they may be drinking accidentally or unintentionally drinking a cleaning product.
And then we get into things like alcohol and vape products, cannabis products that just are unintentionally left on a table or on a counter, on a coffee table, that are just accidents waiting to happen.
Host Amber Smith: How dangerous are cigarette butts or vape juice, because you think of that as trash or garbage. But can they be dangerous for kids?
Mary Beth Dreyer: For sure. Absolutely. Little kids are small. Their bodies are little. They're not as developed. So things like nicotine or cannabis can certainly be poisonous to them. There's a high concentration of nicotine in those vape cartridges, so it's really important to properly store tobacco or cannabis products up out of sight, out of reach of little kids.
Host Amber Smith: And so if you suspect your child did get into that, that would warrant a call to the poison center?
Mary Beth Dreyer: Absolutely. Definitely give us a call. Those are the types of calls that we receive.
Host Amber Smith: Now, in terms of liquor, I'm imagining glasses that are left unattended, or the morning after a party. Is that kind of what you hear about?
Mary Beth Dreyer: Absolutely. Same thing goes with the alcoholic drinks. They are bright. They have fruit in them this time of year. You know, we try to always do a little extra at the holiday season. So they smell good. They look good. Kids like to mock what adults are doing. And if they're left unattended, a parent gets distracted, a parent is sleeping in the next morning, and things are left out, those are all or can be dangerous to small children.
Host Amber Smith: This is Upstate's "The Informed Patient" podcast. I'm your host, Amber Smith, and I'm talking with Mary Beth Dreyer. She's a public health educator at the Upstate New York Poison Center, and we're going over the types of calls that typically come into the poison center during the holiday season. The poison center is available 24/7 to answer questions at 1 800 222 - 1 2 2 2, and there is no charge.
So let's talk about holiday decorations. Do you get calls about poinsettias, holly berries, Christmas lights, tinsel? What types of holiday decorations can pose a problem?
Mary Beth Dreyer: We get calls about all sorts of holiday decorations and plants. Again, like I've said in the past, it's really important to keep things out of reach of little kids and pets. You know, if a parent is crafting with small children -- I know that's a popular thing to do with young kids this time of year -- it's important to supervise them, making sure that they're not putting things in their mouth. And practice proper hand washing once they're finished. and things like decorations and plants, they're colorful. They're bright. They're attractive to little kids. So you can see where an unintentional poisoning can happen because, again, kids are curious and the way that they explore is through their mouths, especially our little kids.
So just a quick note about poinsettias. It's hard to believe that they're not toxic to people, and generally calls that come into the poison center about them, they don't end up needing medical care. But things like holly berry, mistletoe, boxwood, amaryllis -- all popular plants this time of year that people use to decorate their houses, or might give them as gifts -- they can be poisonous. So the poinettia might be a safer option to decorate with or to give to somebody, especially if they have little kids or pets in their house.
Host Amber Smith: The holiday season for many families includes special meals. Regarding food, are there precautions you'd like to remind people about?
Mary Beth Dreyer: Oh, for sure. I mean, holidays and eating, they just kind of go hand in hand, right? So, I would say when you're starting to celebrate and you're hosting, you're expecting a lot of people, so you're cooking. You know, start with a clean work surface. Wash your hands. Follow directions and cook foods to its recommended temperature. You know, use those meat thermometers to be sure that the food is cooked thoroughly. And just generally speaking, be sure to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. And generally, as a rule of thumb, try not to leave your food out on the counter or on your table for more than two hours. And after everything is said and done and you refrigerate or freeze your leftovers, disinfect all of your food preparation in your food service areas, just as an extra level of precaution.
Host Amber Smith: Does the poison center get calls from people who think they got sick from eating something that was spoiled?
Mary Beth Dreyer: We sure do. And I would encourage people to, if they're experiencing symptoms of food poisoning, their stomach is upset, they have some intestinal issues going on, they're just feeling off, they might have a fever, absolutely give us a call. And really, in terms of advice, it's really going to depend on each person and what's going on with them. Each case, as you can imagine, is treated individually. But certainly give us a call if they think that somebody, either themselves or somebody in their house. Is experiencing food poisoning.
Host Amber Smith: Now, people may travel to other homes during the holiday season, or they may have guests visiting their home. Are there precautions you can offer to help keep everyone safe?
Mary Beth Dreyer: You know, that's a great question. And this time of year, this is something we talk over and over about. Holidays are a perfect time to visit loved ones. A lot of people travel during this time of year. And I would say, make sure your guests keep their purses and their suitcases or their little travel bags that might have medications in them up and out of sight. Give them a safe place to store their medications while they're visiting. Be sure that they're maybe in a bedroom locked and out of sight. Um, And people are using medication lock boxes for safe storage. That would be something that I would recommend using, too. It's just that extra level of protection that you could give your family and your guests while they're visiting.
Host Amber Smith: Now, I know the Upstate Poison Center serves Upstate New York, but if a family from here is traveling to Florida, and they have an issue that arises during their holiday, can they still call the 1 800-222-1222 number?
Mary Beth Dreyer: Absolutely. That is the same phone number wherever you are in the US. So it would just go to that local poison center. So yes, if you are out of town or you're staying in a hotel or you happen to be visiting relatives out state, it is the same phone number, that 1-800-222-1222.
Host Amber Smith: We've talked a lot about calling the poison center about children and unintentional injuries, but you get a ton of calls from adults about things that adults have done by accident or just have questions about if they're starting any medication, or if they bought something from the pharmacy and got home and it doesn't make sense to them.
Mary Beth Dreyer: Absolutely. I mean, most of our calls are about young children, children under five. Those are where we get the majority of our calls. But we do get a fair amount of calls from adults that might be, like you said, on a new medication. They can't get ahold of their pharmacist. They can't get ahold of their doctor. So, you know, just for just general information, people call us. Maybe some symptoms are happening that they haven't experienced before. I mean, we are medical experts, so, yes, adults do call us often for information, or for accidents that happen to them too. Maybe they were cleaning in a closed area, and it's not ventilated. So they start feeling this dizziness or, again, if by calling us, we can help them avoid going to the ER... obviously if there's an emergency, that's where you go. But if we can help people stay at home and help them at home, that would be, that's the ideal situation.
Host Amber Smith: Now, obviously the poison center is 24/7. So is the hospital emergency room. So how does a person decide whether to call or to go to the hospital emergency room immediately?
Mary Beth Dreyer: Again, I would say if somebody is losing or has lost consciousness, if they're having trouble breathing, if they're experiencing seizures, go to the ER. Call 9 1 1. It's best to just go right to the emergency room. But you know, if anything else is happening in your house, feel free to give us a call, whatever the issues are. You know, don't be embarrassed for the call. It's a free call, and we would just encourage people, call the experts. We're the poison center. We focus on poisonings, and we are well trained and ready and want people to give us a call.
Host Amber Smith: Now, how do you handle any phone calls the poison center receives about dogs or cats? Because I know this time of year, too, pets may be exposed unintentionally.
Mary Beth Dreyer: For sure. You think of traveling with your family, and oftentime your pet goes along with you. We do get a fair amount of calls regarding pets, but we focus on people and not animals. We could maybe give some advice to a caller, but we would encourage people to call their vet or the ASPCA Animal Poison hotline. And I have that phone number, I'd be happy to share. That is 8 8 8 - 4 2 6 - 4 4 3 5. Again, that's the A S P C A Animal Poison hotline. And unlike the poison center, there is a charge for their calls. But again, they have experts that focus on our beloved pets.
Host Amber Smith: .Where would you suggest people go for more information on the topics we've been discussing?
Mary Beth Dreyer: I would encourage people to visit our website. And that's www.UpstatePoison.Org. We have lots of information about poison safety, about holiday safety. We have newsletters and videos that are applicable to all audiences. And if people want, they can get free information sent right to their home. We have stickers and magnets, medicine spoons. We have all sorts of products that are for free, so if people want to visit us on our website. If anybody has questions or concerns or needs information about maybe a new medication and they can't get ahold of their pharmacy, or their doctor's office is closed, I would certainly recommend people giving us a quick phone call.
Host Amber Smith: Well, thank you for making time for this interview, Mrs. Dreyer.
Mary Beth Dreyer: Oh, for sure. Thanks so much for having me.
Host Amber Smith: My guest has been Mary Beth Dreyer. She's a public health educator at the Upstate New York Poison Center. And again, the center can be reached 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 1 800 - 222 - 1222. "The Informed Patient" is a podcast covering health, science and medicine, brought to you by Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York, and produced by Jim Howe. Find our archive of previous episodes at Upstate.edu/informed. This is your host, Amber Smith, thanking you for listening.