Keeping the Holidays Safe From Hidden Poisons
Dec. 24, 1999 (Atlanta) -- Its color may scream "danger," but the
poinsettia plant is the least of a parent's worries this holiday season when it
comes to household items that could be poisonous.
"They are not the deadly plants many people assume they are," says
Rose Ann Soloway, associate director of the American Association of Poison
Control Centers in Washington, D.C. But she says that the sap from the
poinsettia is irritating and may cause vomiting if swallowed.
The holly plant, on the other hand, can be much more dangerous. "The
entire plant is toxic," Soloway says. "Although because they have sharp
points, children don't chew on the leaves." The berries are another matter.
If ingested, they could cause severe stomach problems.
Mistletoe may be romantic, but poison control experts assume it's toxic
based on a single case report of a woman who suffered liver injury after
drinking mistletoe tea. While no other human exposure data exists, Soloway's
advises parents not to take any chances. "We don't recommend live
mistletoe," she says. "Especially not live mistletoe berries."
Christmas trees are at least one plant that parents generally don't have to
worry about. "There should be no problem associated with nibbling on
evergreen trees," Soloway says. "In the first place, it's hard to
do," because the needles can be sharp.
While plants may be an obvious source of holiday poisonings, there is one
potentially deadly substance sometimes overlooked: alcohol. While inebriation
is the cardinal sign of alcohol toxicity in adults, the consequences in
children are much worse. "It is potentially a very serious poison,"
says Soloway. "It doesn't take much alcohol to poison a child." Not
only will alcohol make children sleepy, but it also causes blood sugar levels
to drop significantly.
Soloway has some advice for parents giving parties: Clean up before going to
bed. One hidden source of alcohol poisoning is post-party residues left in
glasses and ingested the next morning by early-waking children.
The holidays are, of course, a time for family get-togethers -- which means
the potential presence of prescription medications that aren't typically
around. Soloway says that anyone entering a house where there are small
children should have their prescription vials locked away for the duration of
She also tells WebMD that parents should avoid getting into a subtle mindset
that sometimes takes over when there are lots of people in the house: that
"somebody" must be watching the children. "In lots of cases kids
get into things because there wasn't one single adult charged with watching the
child," she says.
Many holiday decorations present choking hazards, but most are made out of
nontoxic materials, such as plastic. The water-containing snow globes which,
when agitated, create a blizzard of plastic particles should cause no problem
if the water and tiny plastic "snowflakes" are ingested, but there is a
possibility that the water could be contaminated with bacteria.