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Top holiday hazards from the Poison Control Center at CHOP

During the winter holiday months, the PCC at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia receives an increased number of calls related to plants, toys, and decorations. Learn more here about these hazards and tips to stay safe.

"Help, my two year old just ate a poinsettia petal."

Does this sound familiar? I am certain it does if you're a busy mother with two toddler aged boys like me.  And if life with kids wasn't crazy enough before the fourth Thursday in November, it most certainly is after the winter holiday season takes off into full sprint mode.

The holidays are a festive time with family and friends. However, activities around the holiday and in the winter months can also increase risk of injury. The Poison Control Center at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia receives around 200 calls daily, and the nature of those calls usually has a seasonal flare. During the winter holiday months, we receive an increased number of calls related to plants, toys, and decorations.

So right about now, you're probably wondering…"What happened to that two-year-old that ate the poinsettia petal?" Fortunately, the poinsettia is not highly toxic, but it can cause skin irritation, upset stomach, diarrhea, and vomiting.  So this mom's nerves were calmed downed by the specialist at the poison center, who assured her there was no need to rush to the emergency room and that her child was going to be ok.

Other winter plants and berries that we get called about that are more concerning than poinsettias are:

  1. Holly berries: Ingesting more than three Holly berries could cause severe nausea and vomiting, and possibly even drowsiness.

  2. Yew berries: Chewing the seeds inside the Yew berry, could cause vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain, dizziness, and changes in heart rate.

  3. Cotoneaster berries: Large ingestions may cause trouble breathing, weakness and seizures.

To be on the safe side, it's best to keep all winter plants and berries out of reach from children and animals, including dried arrangements which present a choking hazard.

Another danger year-round and especially during the holidays is the ingestion of button batteries. Here's a quick run through of what they are and how they can be dangerous. Button batteries are the small disc batteries found in many toys, television remotes, electronic devices, and singing greeting cards. Just like coins (and EVERYTHING if you're talking about a young toddler), many children have a tendency to put these in their mouths, which can lead to an accidental ingestion.

The button batteries can become lodged in the esophagus (the tube that connects our mouths to our stomach) without the child showing any signs or symptoms. Within just a few hours, the lodged battery can cause tissue damage and tissue death. We refer all button battery ingestions into the emergency room so that an X-ray can be performed to be sure the battery is not lodged. For additional safety, many newer toys and remotes have battery compartments that require tools to open, however, older ones do not. And as mentioned above, singing greeting cards also contain button batteries. Be sure to keep loose batteries out of reach of children, and supervise children when they're playing with singing greeting cards.

Besides the extra winter plants and berries, what else might be a hazard in your home during holidays? If you guessed decorations, then you guessed right.  Glass ornaments and lights can pose a choking hazard and a risk for injury if broken or chewed. Did you know the bubble lights (which were popular circa 1950-70s) contain a toxic chemical called, methylene chloride, a solvent used in paint strippers, degreasers, and propellants?  When inhaled, ingested, or touched, it metabolizes to carbon monoxide in the body. They have been trying to make a comeback so be wary of the liquid that may get exposed from broken bubble lights.  Keep a close eye on children and pets when they are near holiday decorations. For some comic relief on the impact of children on tree decorating, check out this infographic from

Here are some other tips to stay safer this holiday season:

  1. Remember to keep your holiday guests' medications out of reach of young children. A grandparent's purse can be a dangerous place if a pill minder or medications are left inside.

  2. All alcoholic beverages should be kept out of reach of children and make sure to empty all beverage glasses when cleaning up.   Ingestion of alcohol by young children can cause serious illness.

  3. Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning: Never use gas- or kerosene-powered heaters or engines indoors and make sure good, working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide monitors are installed in your home.

  4. Keep heating fuels, kerosene and lamp oil in their original containers and locked away; they not only pose a fire hazard but can be life threatening if swallowed.

  5. When readying your car for trips to visit relatives make sure that windshield deicers and antifreeze are used according to direction and kept away from children and pets.

  6. Food safety is very important when making your holiday specialties. Thaw and prepare food according to packaging instructions. For more information contact the Food Safety Hotline (800) 535-4555.

The Poison Control Center at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia wishes you a healthy, happy holiday season!

In the case of an emergency, you can reach the PCC at Children's at (800) 222-1222. You can find out more about the PCC at its website and you can follow the PCC on Facebook.

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