Have Yourself a Very Safe Season: Holiday Safety Tips

December 12, 2001
News Office: Wallace Ravven (415) 502-6397

Holidays can be fun, but they can be hazardous too, particularly for small children and pets. By paying attention to just a few tips from California Poison Control System experts, many potential accidents can be avoided.

Mistletoe and holly berries can be poisonous if swallowed in large quantities. To decorate indoors with red berries, pyracantha berries make a safer substitute. Make sure that all plant decorations are kept well out of the reach of young children and pets.

Contrary to popular opinion, poinsettia plants are not dangerous. The myth of the deadly poinsettia originates from a single questionable case in Hawaii in 1918; there have been no serious ingestions involving poinsettia since then. The plants are safe to have in the home during the holidays.

Christmas trees (pine, spruce, cedar, or fir) are not poisonous but can cause stomach irritation if part of the plant is eaten. Choking may occur if pine needles become lodged in the throat while being swallowed. Skin irritation may occur if the sticky sap is not washed off soon after exposure.

Most Christmas ornaments today are made of thin glass, plaster, Styrofoam, plastic or metal and are not poisonous if swallowed. The main concern is choking on small pieces of the ornaments. Attempts to eat a glass ornament may cause small cuts to the lips or tongue but won't cause serious bleeding if a small amount is swallowed. To protect children and pets, use non-breakable and non-toxic ornaments such as ornaments made of paper or cloth on the low branches of the tree.

Heirloom ornaments or antique ornaments can be potentially dangerous if their painted surface contains lead, although lead poisoning only results from repeated exposures. When unsure if ornaments contains lead, place them on higher tree branches or display them out of reach of children.

Angel hair is made of spun glass and it can injure eyes, skin, and mouth. To be safe, do not allow young children to play with angel hair.

Spray snow is an aerosol spray containing a white substance made of waxes and chemicals. Swallowing a small amount is not a problem when the snow is dry. Inhaling fumes from the propellants and solvents or spraying the aerosol near the eyes can cause injury. Use spray snow according to directions and in properly well-ventilated areas. Once the snow is dry, it is considered safe.

Artificial icicles and tinsel are made of plastic and no longer contain tin or lead. They are not poisonous, but if small pieces are swallowed, they can cause choking. Avoid using tinsel on parts of the tree that a child or a too-curious pet can reach.

"Bubble lights" may contain dangerous chemicals. If swallowed, this liquid is very irritating and potentially harmful. Keep bubble lights out of the reach of children. To be safer, do not use these lights at all if you have small children.

Ribbons and wrapping paper can be attractive to children and pets. If they are sucked on or chewed, these materials can release a dye, but they are non-toxic. Pets may develop a dangerous obstruction if they swallow too much paper or a long string of ribbon.

Most waxes, scents, and coloring dyes in holiday candles are non-toxic. Melted wax or unattended candles left near flammable material can cause fires and serious burns. Keep lighted candles out of reach of children.

Batteries can be hazardous if bitten or swallowed. The alkaline contents can leak from the battery and cause a chemical burn to the mouth, lips and tongue. Swallowed batteries can obstruct the airway or throat. Even the small disc or button shaped batteries can be dangerous. Do not leave batteries of any size within reach of small children.

Candy and chocolate in large amounts are not healthy for children. Chocolate contains an ingredient called theobromine. A large amount of chocolate could cause serious illness or even death in a dog. Keep all candies, especially chocolates, out of reach of pets.

Remember to keep alcoholic drinks away from children. Unfinished drinks left out after a party can be attractive to small children and can seriously poison a child.

After the party, empty all glasses that contained alcoholic beverages.

If there is concern that someone may have been poisoned, call the California Poison Control System. The Public Emergency 24-hour hotline is 1-800-222-1222.

The statewide California Poison Control System, managed by the School of Pharmacy at the University of California, San Francisco, receives about 300,000 calls each year for poison emergencies and information. The CPCS consists of four divisions located at Valley Children's Hospital in Fresno/Madera, UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, UC San Diego Medical Center and the UCSF-affiliated San Francisco General Hospital Medical Center. Emergency consultation and information is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, via a statewide toll-free hotline (1-800-222-1222). Additional information is available on the Internet at www.calpoison.org