Holiday season poisoning hazards

Frank LoVecchio, DO, is a medical toxicologist at the Banner Poison and Drug Information Center. For more information, call (800) 222-1222 or visit the Banner Poison and Drug Information Center.

Question: I have a young, curious child at home. What are some poison hazards that I should look out for this holiday season?

Answer: The holidays are known to bring a greater volume of emergency patients to our hospitals. What is unfortunate is that many visits are due to preventable poisonings. From medications to lamp oils, alcohol to scented candles, the decorations and household items that children are usually exposed to during the holidays are often not properly secured or childproofed.

Poisoning during the holiday season is an unfortunate circumstance—especially when the advised precautions to prevent these poisonings are not taken. Pills may be left within a child’s reach or taken incorrectly by the visitor in your home; the bright colors and scents of candle oil spark curiosity; these issues and others can lead to an anxious hospital visit and interrupted holiday celebration.

Here are some tips to avoid emergency room visits related to accidental poisoning:

  • Visitor’s purses or jackets are often where you will find medications. Holiday travelers tend to keep medications with them, making them easily accessible for children. Keep the young children out of purses and away from flip top medication sorters, etc.

  • Keep cleaning supplies and alcohol in their original containers and away from children. Do not count on your own labeling of bottles to get the information needed if someone should drink or spill it by mistake.

  • Do not keep non-edible items in the refrigerator. A quick grab of something to eat or drink could lead to trouble.

  • If you like to decorate with candles that require oil or those that are colorful and/or scented, please be sure to keep them out of a child’s reach.

  • Carbon monoxide is a silent killer. Do not use charcoal or propane grills inside the house.

  • Though they’re not the fatal poisons that they were once believed to be, poinsettias and other holiday plants, if consumed, can cause some mild gastrointestinal discomfort and vomiting.

  • Keep small children and animals away from other seasonal plants, including Mistletoe berries, Holly berries, the fruit of Jerusalem Cherry, the leaves and twigs of Boxwood and all parts of Yew plants.

  • Christmas tree preservatives are usually not toxic. Still, check the label for special ingredients and warnings. Especially if methyl salicylate is added, for one mouthful of the concentrate can be deadly to a toddler.

  • The prettiest old ornaments might have hidden hazards. Beware of cuts from broken glass and be aware that some older ornaments may be decorated with harmful lead paints.

  • Lead is also a hazard in some tree light wires. Wash hands before and after handling tree lights.

  • Make sure small button batteries are not available to children. One swallowed battery can potentially make a child very sick, requiring referral to a hospital.

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