Tips for a safe holiday season for young children

By Wallace Ravven

Holidays can be fun, but they can be hazardous too, particularly for small children and pets. California Poison Control System experts offer a few tips to help keep young children and pets safe around holiday plants and decorations in the home.

## Holiday Plants - Potentially Poisonous Depending on Amount

* Be Careful with Berries - Eating holly or mistletoe berries can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and drowsiness. If eaten in sufficient amounts, severe symptoms can occur.  Tip: Keep plants at a safe distance from young children and pets—in high, out-of- reach places. Watch out for berries that fall to the floor.

* Poinsettia and Christmas trees - Poinsettia plants and Christmas tree needles are not poisonous if eaten, but may cause mouth/throat irritation, stomach upset, or irritate the skin if handled by children.  Choking on tree needles is the main concern. Tip: Keep poinsettias at safe distance from young children, and trim lower branches on trees. Vacuum needles daily.

## Holiday Ornaments and Decorations - Potential Choking Hazards

* Ornaments that Can Break - The main concern is that small broken pieces can either cut or choke a young child if handled or eaten. Tip: Put breakable ornaments on the upper branches of the tree, and use paper or cloth ornaments on the lower branches. Tinsel can also look like food to a child and should be considered a choking hazard as well; put on the upper branches.

* Ribbons and Wrapping Paper - Bright colors make these attractive to a curious child who thinks about putting in his/her mouth. While sucking on their dyes is not dangerous, they should be considered choking hazards. Tip: Do not let children play with gift wrappings.

* Antique or Heirloom Ornaments with Lead - Old ornaments may contain lead. If unsure, keep them on upper branches of tree or at safe distance from young children.

* Be Careful with Spray Snow - Spray snow is safe when it is dry. But it is an aerosol that contains chemicals that can irritate the lungs, nose, and eyes if inhaled when spraying. Tip: Follow directions and spray in well-ventilated areas; don’t spray near children.

* Be careful with leftover alcoholic drinks.  Unfinished drinks from a party can be tempting to children. Alcohol can seriously poison young children. Tip: Be diligent and empty all cups and glasses when the party is over.

If there is concern that someone may have been poisoned, call the California Poison Control System.  The Public Emergency 24-hour hotline is 1-800-876-4766. 

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 (1-800-876-4766). Additional information is available on the Internet at