Family gatherings, special traditions, delicious treats — the holiday season may be the most wonderful time of the year, especially for kids. Unfortunately, for emergency room doctors it's also one of the busiest. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, over 12,500 of you have to leave the company of your loved ones to rush to the emergency room due to holiday-related accidental injuries. Here are some common holiday dangers that are overlooked by distracted holiday revelers more often than you might think. Take a look, know the warning signs, and you'll be the first to know if you, your loved ones, or your pets are victims of a toxic Christmas.
Learn how to protect yourself and your little ones from some common holiday dangers, so you and your family can enjoy a season that's happy and healthy.
- Mistletoe, holly, poinsettias, Jerusalem cherry plants, and other plants are commonly used as decorations during the holidays. Like many plants, these are considered potentially poisonous and should be kept out of the reach of kids. Symptoms of plant poisoning can include rashes, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. If you suspect that your child has eaten any part of a plant, immediately call your doctor or the National Poison Center: (800) 222-1222.
- "Bubble lights" containing methylene chloride can be poisonous if a child drinks the fluid from more than one light (even if labeled nontoxic). Snow sprays may be harmful if the aerosol propellants are used improperly.
- Having a holiday party? Odds are there'll be some grown-up party drinks to toast the season and, perhaps, some kids scampering about. Again, children can be quite curious and love to imitate adults. Alcohol poisoning is not uncommon with young ones during the holidays, considering half-empty drink glasses may be left around and forgotten. Be sure to ask guests to dispose of their leftovers appropriately, or take special care to do it yourself.
- Food poisoning is another potential holiday hazard. Practice food safety by washing hands, utensils, dishes, and anything else that comes in contact with raw meat, including poultry and fish, and raw eggs before and after use. Don't contaminate a serving dish with raw meat. Store leftovers properly and heat them thoroughly before serving.
Choking and Swallowing
- Tree ornaments, light bulbs, icicles, tinsel, and small toys are potential choking hazards for small children because they may block the airway. The general rule of thumb is that if it's small enough to fit in the mouths of babies and toddlers, it's too small to play with.
- Common holiday foods such as peanuts or popcorn are potential choking hazards and should not be given to children under age 4.
- The needles of holiday trees can cause painful cuts in the mouth and throat of a child who swallows them.
- Keep your tree secured in a sturdy stand so that it doesn't tip over (or isn't knocked over by kids or pets) and keep it away from all heat sources, such as electrical outlets, radiators, and portable space heaters. If you buy an artificial tree, be sure it's labeled "fire-retardant." Unplug all lights, both indoor and outdoor, and extinguish all candles every night before you go to bed.
- Avoid using real candles on a tree because if the needles are dry, they can easily catch fire. Never leave the room with taper candles or menorah candles burning — it only takes a minute for a spark from a candle to burst into flames. Keep lit candles away from windowsills and mantles and use only flame-retardant decorations when decking your halls.
- Circuits that are overloaded with lights, decorations, and accessories can start a fire. Don't overload indoor or outdoor electrical outlets.
- Have your fireplace inspected before you light your first fire of the season. A chimney professional can clean your fireplace and ensure that it is safe to use. You can protect your family by using a sturdy fireplace screen when burning fires. Never burn paper or pine boughs, since those materials can float out of the chimney and ignite a nearby home or your own roof.
- Practice fire safety, have a family emergency plan in the event of a fire, and check smoke detectors before you put up your holiday decorations. These steps will ensure that your family can celebrate many holiday seasons to come.
- A lot of cooking goes on during the holiday season, so there are many opportunities for burns and scaldings. Keep pot handles turned away from the front of the stove and always keep the oven door closed. To prevent accidents, watch your kids while you bake or cook. Kitchen appliances should be clean to prevent potential fires.
- Keep breakable ornaments out of young kids' reach — or keep them off the tree until your children are older. If one does break, clean up the pieces quickly.
- Car accidents and injuries to children increase during the holiday season. Prevent a holiday ER visit by making sure that kids are buckled up securely during car rides and don't drive after drinking alcohol. And be extra cautious when traveling at night on holidays such as Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, when there is a higher incidence of impaired driving.
- Sledding accidents can be very serious. Young kids should be supervised and should avoid dangerous sledding areas, such as rocky areas, steep hills, and crowded sledding hills.
- A large percentage of holiday-related emergency room visits are a result of attempts to open difficult product packaging, such as clamshells and shrink-wrapped goods. When opening packages you want to make sure that your hands—and whatever is inside the impenetrable container—make it through the process unscathed. If you're using scissors, cut with blades facing away from your body and hands, but you could also try a specialty tool to get things opened in a snap. Our favorite is the Plastic Surgeon which features a long ergonomic handle and a stay-sharp surgical steel blade with auto-close safety cover.
- If your sniffling and sneezing coincide with the arrival of your freshly cut Christmas tree, you could be reacting to skyrocketing mold spore counts. If you must have a real tree in your home, prevent allergic reactions for guests and loved ones by hosing your tree down, spraying it with a mold-resistant sealant like M-1 Sure Cote, and allowing it to dry before bringing it indoors.
- If you're baking this holiday, keep your ingredients stored in a high cabinet and not anyplace where your pup could get to them. Theobromine, a compound present in chocolate that is toxic to dogs but not humans, could cause a range of symptoms, including vomiting and diarrhea, seizures, coma, or even death. Potential toxic doses vary by breed size and weight, but unsweetened cocoa and baking chocolate pose the highest risk, while milk chocolate is least threatening. If you suspect your pet has ingested a toxic amount of chocolate, call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435.
Pups begging at the table for scraps isn't anything new. But, make sure guests know what they can and can't offer your pet. It's best practice not to train animals into a taste for human foods at all; your dog can chew common treats like chicken and turkey bones into shards that can pose a choking hazard if swallowed.
Be sure to take your trash out regularly to avoid pets rummaging through it and discovering scraps that could put them in danger: coffee grinds (methylxanthines can cause vomiting and diarrhea, seizures, and even death), grapes and raisins (an unknown compound causes kidney failure), and more. For a full list of People Foods to Avoid Feeding Your Pet visit aspca.org