700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

Preventing Holiday Hazards

Dec 03, 2021
family looking at a Christmas tree

Families celebrate the holidays with many different traditions and experiences. Some families have small gatherings of loved ones and some families travel to spend time with others.  Friends and family often decorate and exchange gifts to celebrate the occasion. With all of the excitement and anticipation, our familiar day-to-day routines tend to shift leading to potential encounters with holiday hazards.

With travel restrictions being lifted in many areas, folks are excited to visit distant friends and relatives. Poisonings increase when families travel. Remember to keep medication locked and stored away from children when you travel. If you are staying with friends or family, talk with your host about safe storage of medications, household cleaning products and alcohol and tobacco. The safest way to store hazardous products is to place them on a high shelf out of sight and reach of children.  

Holiday decorations are often a favorite way to celebrate the season. If you like to decorate with live seasonal plants such as holly, mistletoe, or Jerusalem cherry plants, be aware that these are all considered potentially poisonous. If ingested, symptoms can include rashes, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Other notable decorations such as Poinsettias, pine and spruce trees are generally not toxic but can cause irritation if ingested. If you prefer the look of the flocked artificial tree in your living room, be aware that flocking should not be eaten and can cause breathing difficulties in respiratory compromised individuals.  

Some holiday decorations remind of us of a different time. Items such as bubble lights and globes contain methylene chloride or glycols which are highly toxic. Many love to decorate with snow sprays to give the illusion of snow to their holiday displays. Snow sprays can be toxic if inhaled leading to headache, nausea, drowsiness, giddiness and unsteadiness. A severe exposure can cause symptoms such as fainting, heart palpitations, seizures and chest pain.

Holiday gatherings and parties can also present hazards. If alcohol is served at gatherings, a child may not be aware that the holiday punch or eggnog contains alcohol. Often, children like to imitate adults they see drinking and want some as well. Alcohol affects children much quicker than adults mainly because of their smaller size. Alcohol can cause dangerously low blood sugar levels leading to coma or death in children. Even small amounts can be very toxic for kids.

Food is often the center of many holiday gatherings. However, food poisoning can often go hand in hand with the family meal if food is not properly prepared beforehand. Safe food preparation such as washing hands, utensils, dishes and other items exposed to raw meat before and after use if generally enough. If you have leftovers following a large meal, be sure to store properly and heat them thoroughly before eating.

Every year there seems to be new and exciting toys available in stores. Some of those toys can contain hazards that can be harmful if swallowed.  Many of the small electronic toys, musical greeting cards, key fobs etc. will contain small disc shaped batteries called button batteries. Across the United States, poison centers handle an average of over 3000 cases involving swallowing button batteries. Another popular toy among kids are magnet-based toys. If more than one magnet is swallowed, they can trap digestive tissue restricting blood supply to that area which can be life threatening. Surgery is often needed to remove magnets and repair damaged tissue.

The most important way to have a safe holiday season is to remember that the Central Ohio Poison Center is here to help with all of your poison related questions. Our certified nurses and pharmacists are available 24/7 to answer your calls, even on holidays. You can text POISON to 797979 to receive the helpline contact number 1-800-222-1222 to save in your cellphone. If you’d like to receive a free magnet with our poison helpline phone number, call 1-800-222-1222 to request yours today.

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Amanda Goetz
Central Ohio Poison Center

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.