How to Prevent Holiday Hazards

The holidays are coming! What a great time of year: the many family get-togethers and parties, the decorations, the season’s music, the anticipation. But with all the good comes some holiday hazards to be aware of.

We love to decorate our homes during this time of year and that can include seasonal plants. Holly, mistletoe and Jerusalem cherry plants are all considered potentially poisonous. Common symptoms when ingested can include rashes, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. On the positive side, a common holiday plant with an undeserved reputation as poisonous is Poinsettias. While we don’t want anyone adding Poinsettias to holiday salads, we don’t expect any harm if a child does explore the plant and gets a bite or two of the leaves. Also safe, if you have a natural tree, are the pines and spruce trees. The needles can be irritating due to their shape, but generally the plants are not toxic.

In some cases, it is the decorations themselves that present the risk, especially the bubble lights and globes. Bubble lights can contain methylene chloride which is highly toxic and the globes may contain glycols. Snow sprays may also be harmful if they are used improperly because of the aerosol propellants.

Holiday parties also present a couple risks. Many parents host holiday parties where alcohol is served. Children may not recognize if the holiday eggnog or punch is spiked. Small children may imitate adults they see drinking and want some, too. Alcohol affects children much more quickly than adults for several reasons, including their small body size. Even small amounts of alcohol can be dangerous for children. Alcohol can drop kids’ blood sugar levels to dangerous lows, which can cause coma or death.

The holidays always include food and food poisoning is another potential holiday hazard. Generally, good food safety is enough: washing hands, utensils, dishes and anything else that comes in contact with raw meat, including poultry and fish, and raw eggs before and after use. Don’t contaminate a serving dish with raw meat. Store leftovers properly and heat them thoroughly before serving.

One big risk happens on the day the presents come out. Many of today’s toys contain small, disc-shaped batteries called button batteries. Every year, poison centers treat more than 2000 children under 5 years old after they ingest these small batteries. Be sure to supervise young children when they play with toys that have button batteries.

So enjoy the holidays and if you have small children in the home, remember that their wonderful curious nature may sometimes get them into trouble. If you have questions call Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Central Ohio Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222. You will get an expert 24/7, even on Christmas. Save the number in your cell phone or call for a free magnet with the poison center number and an information packet how to poison proof your home.

Henry Spiller
Henry Spiller is the director of the Central Ohio Poison Center. He has spent more than 30 years in toxicology, with more than 300 publications in the field. Henry is the proud father of five (3 girls, 2 boys) and an avid soccer player when his aging knees let him play.

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