Holiday Hazard and Poison Tips

Dec. 23, 2008
The holiday season is a time of joy, but it also brings the potential for poisonings. The Drug and Poison Information Center (DPIC) lists the common but potentially hazardous holiday items families should be aware of when celebrating safely this season.

According to DPIC, the following substances may pose a poisoning threat:

Alcohol – Ethyl alcohol is a common and potentially toxic ingredient in holiday beverages. It, or denatured alcohol, also is found in gifts such as perfumes and colognes. During the holidays, DPIC receives an increased number of calls stemming from alcohol poisoning, and Cincinnati Children’s emergency department sees more children due to alcohol poisoning during the holiday season. This is often due to adults leaving unfinished drinks lying around after holiday parties where children might find them. Adults are advised to make sure all alcohol is put away before going to bed at night.

Poinsettia – Children who play with the leaves of this plant and then rub their eyes may experience redness and irritation. Serious incidents regarding poinsettias probably do not occur due to ingestion of parts of the domestic varieties of this plant (gastrointestinal and local irritation are occasionally reported), however, if pieces of this plant are swallowed, parents are advised to call DPIC.

Mistletoe – Certain varieties of mistletoe contain substances that, in large quantities, can affect the nervous system, blood pressure and the heart. Berries have the greatest potential for causing symptoms of poisoning, although other parts of the plant also contain toxins. DPIC reports that small children usually only ingest the berries in small amounts, such as one or two berries, so there is no documented cause for alarm or necessity for treatment. However, if ingestion does occur, parents are should contact DPIC.

Holly – There are a least 400 different varieties of holly. The berries of a few varieties of holly plants are reported to be poisonous. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and a slowing down of breathing and heart rate can occur after eating holly berries. Children might also eat the leaves of holly plants. These could also contain potentially toxic chemicals. Parents should call DPIC if ingestion occurs.

Jerusalem Cherry – Although this plant allegedly contains solanine, a substance found in several plants with known toxic potential, reports of toxicity are sparse. Reported signs and symptoms of solanine toxicity include dilated pupils, salivation, nausea, vomiting, headache, bloating, diarrhea, respiratory depression, central nervous system depression, confusion, irregular heartbeat, coma and death. It is unclear how many Jerusalem cherries would have to be ingested to produce any of these symptoms so parents are advised to call DPIC if their child eats any part of a Jerusalem cherry.

Cyclamen – Very little is known about how poisonous this plant is to humans. The safest thing to do is call DPIC if ingestion occurs.

Essential Oils and Flavors – Some ingredients, such as salicylates in oil of wintergreen, menthol, camphor, eucalyptol and other oils and flavorings, can be extremely toxic if ingested. Other products may have a high alcohol content or the potential to cause severe problems if ingested.

Dry Ice – Dry ice is composed of carbon dioxide and is used in many ways throughout the holiday season. Care must be taken to avoid skin contact with solid pieces of dry ice or with pieces that might be ingested. Skin contact can cause tissue damage and burns to the mouth can occur from ingestion. Flush the skin with lukewarm water if direct exposure occurs, and give lukewarm water to drink if a solid piece is swallowed.

DPIC is a service of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Call DPIC at 513-636-5111 or toll free at 1-800-222-1222 any time of night or day regarding any concerns about hazardous products in the home.

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