Children's, Health and Safety

Handling Holiday Hazards

By Dr. Mom (Terri Coco, MD)

As a mom, seeing children in the emergency room for preventable holiday-related injuries is heartbreaking. Often, I see cuts to the body or mouth from broken ornaments and decorations, plant ingestions and burns from cooking in the home. During what is often referred to as “the most wonderful time of the year” be smart and be safe by avoiding holiday hazards. Always remember the age of the children that are going to be in the home and plan, decorate, cook and gift accordingly!

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree
A Christmas tree is a big part of the holidays in many households. However, they do come with some risks. The National Child Protection Association and the U.S. Fire Administration estimate that there are 240 home fires from Christmas trees and 150 home fires from holiday lights and decorations each year. When buying a Christmas tree, make sure it is fresh.  Check to see that the needles are green and hard to pull off and that the stump is sticky with sap. Put the tree in a place that is away from heat sources that may cause it to catch fire. Water live trees daily. When the tree starts to turn brown or the needles get dry and are easy to pull off, it is time to remove it from the home. If you choose an artificial tree, look for one that is flame resistant.

Decking the Halls
As you jingle all the way this year, be aware of the potential dangers of holiday decorations. The same sparkle, pop and twinkle that you enjoy about your decorations will also be appealing to small children.

Candles – Everyone likes to have pretty holiday candles around their home but they are very dangerous if left unattended. In the last few years LED candles have hit the market – they are a good alternative to the real thing. If you choose real candles, keep them out of reach of younger children.

Ornaments and Tinsel – Ornaments and tinsel can be a choking hazard for small children. Always hang them high and out of reach of children who may want to pull on them. Many tree decorations can look like food – this is especially appealing to children. Anything that can fit into a toilet paper roll can be a choking hazard for a small child. Also be careful with ornament hooks as they can cut or puncture the skin.

Lights – Be sure to purchase lights that indicate on the packaging that they are approved by a testing lab. Test light strands every year to make sure that there are no exposed wires or sockets. Always turn decorative lights off before leaving home and before going to bed at night. Keep lights out of reach of small children, as chewing on a light strand could cause the child to get shocked or electrocuted. Remember glass bulbs are also a hazard if broken. Replace your holiday lights every few years.

Plants – Mistletoe and holly are the two most toxic holiday plants. Poinsettias, though not as toxic, can still cause a localized reaction in the mouth.

Angel Hair – Angel Hair is made out of finely cut fiberglass. Exposing the eyes or face to angel hair can cause irritation, redness and pain.

Aerosols  – Spray paints, spray snow and other aerosols can be dangerous to the lungs if inhaled.

Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire
Often when people think of the holidays, good food (and lots of it) comes to mind. Certain foods that we love to prepare for holiday parties can be choking hazards – popcorn, small candies, nuts and bones can all be dangerous for small children. Be sure to keep these out of reach. Also be sure to turn the handles of pots on the stove backward, so little hands can’t grab them.

Over The River and Through the Woods
Whether you are dashing through the snow to Grandmother’s house or to a holiday party – be aware of risks in other people’s homes, including unattended medications and alcohol. Be aware of glasses or cups with alcoholic beverages that are left out. It doesn’t take a lot of alcohol to cause a small child to get sick. Think about medications in other people’s homes, or medications of a house guest. Keep these out of reach of small children who may mistake them for candy.

The Twelve Days of Christmas
When choosing gifts for children, remember the number one rule – choose age appropriate gifts. Avoid toys with small parts that can be a choking hazard. For young children, choose toys without strings, batteries and removable parts. If your child receives a gift that isn’t age-appropriate, say thank you and put it away until he is old enough to use it. Collect all ribbons after opening gifts. Loose ribbons are a strangulation hazard.

If your child ingests something toxic this holiday season, call the Regional Poison Control Center at Children’s of Alabama at 1-800-222-1222.  The Regional Poison Control Center can give recommendations for how to cope with each ingestion case. They can also aid in indentifying different types of medications and pills.

From one mom, stepmom and grandmother to another:  remember age appropriateness, be aware of what is in your home and what is in the home of those you visit and do your best to keep your kids safe during the holidays. By following these tips you can be sure that you and your kids have a holiday season that is merry and bright!

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