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Holiday Poison Prevention Safety Tips

Holidays can be fun, but they can be hazardous for children and pets. Take a moment to read some safety tips and precautions concerning plants, decorations and holiday guests to keep your family safe.

Holiday plants

Amaryllis (Hippeastrum spp.): This exotic plant from tropical America and Africa has brilliant-colored flowers and green strap-shaped leaves. A stomach ache, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea can occur if the plant is eaten.

Christmas Cactus: This is an old favorite during the holiday season and often sold as Zygocactus truncatus. The arching, drooping branches are made up of flattened, scallop-edged, smooth, bright green, spineless joints. Rosy purplish, red flowers appear at Christmas time. This plant is considered non-toxic.

Christmas Trees: Most are varieties of pine or spruce and are not poisonous. Eating the bark can cause a stomach ache. The sap may cause an itchy skin rash. The needles can cause choking, but are non-toxic. Sharp needles can cause skin irritation and bleeding.

Holly berries (Ilex spp.): The bright red berries of this plant are especially attractive to small children. Nibbling on 1 or 2 berries will not cause any symptoms. Swallowing more, however, can result in nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhea and a feeling of extreme tiredness.

Jerusalem Cherry (Solanum pseudocapsicum): Swallowing this ornamental plant can result in vomiting, redness of the skin, drowsiness or restlessness, and hallucinations. This plant has bright orange and dark red berries. In rare cases seizures may occur.

Mistletoe (Phoradendron spp.): All parts of the plant contain toxic substances and if eaten can cause vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain. One to two berries or leaves eaten by a child will not result in serious harm. As a precaution when hanging mistletoe in your home, place it in a piece of netting or a plastic sandwich bag. This will help avoid young children or pets from eating the leaves and berries that drop to the ground.

Poinsettia (Euphorbia spp.): Eating many leaves may cause mild stomach upset. The sap from the plant may cause skin rash and should be washed off with soap and water. Contrary to earlier beliefs, poinsettias are safe in the home during the holidays.

Pyracantha (Pyracantha spp.): This plant is often used in holiday centerpiece decorations because of its showy ornamental appearance. The pyracantha plant is a thorny bush that belongs to the rose family. It has oblong, shiny leaves, white flowers and a lot of berries during the winter season. If large amounts of berries are eaten, a stomach ache may result, however most experts say it is safe for decorating use during the holidays.

Rosary Pea or the Jequirity Bean (Abrus precatorius): The jequirity bean, commonly used in Mexico, is often used in jewelry making because of its dark red color and black tipped end. In India and Africa the plant has been used as both a human and an animal poison. There is no harm if the beans are swallowed whole, but can be life-threatening if they are chewed prior to swallowing. Vomiting and stomach ache occurs within a few hours after swallowing. This is followed by bloody diarrhea.

Holiday decorations

Angel hair: Angel hair is finely spun glass, which can be irritating to the skin, eyes, and the throat if swallowed. Wear gloves to avoid eye and skin irritation while decorating.

Bubble lights: Bubble lights contain a small amount of methylene chloride, which is also found in paint removers. Nibbling on an intact light or one “opened” light may cause mild skin or mouth irritation only.

Candles: Candles consist of wax and synthetic materials, which are non-toxic. Small amounts of non-poisonous colors and scents are added, however, small chunks pose a choking hazard to small children. Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other plants or trees. Always use non-flammable holders, and place candles where they will not fall.

Christmas tree ornaments: Ornaments can be made of glass, thin metal, styrofoam, or wood. If a child swallows a piece of an ornament, it could cause choking and/or blockage in the intestines. Antique or foreign-made ornaments may be decorated with lead-based paint, however lead toxicity is unlikely from small, one-time occurrence.

Christmas tree preservatives: Commercial Christmas tree preservatives usually contain a concentrated sugar solution and are considered non-toxic. Homemade solutions containing aspirin or bleach can be potentially harmful if a large amount is swallowed.

Fireplace color crystals: These color crystals are attractive to children and can look like candy. They contain powders of heavy metal salts such as copper, selenium, arsenic and antimony. If swallowed, they can be very irritating to the mouth and stomach. They can also cause burns in the mouth and throat. If large amounts are swallowed, it may result in heavy metal poisoning.

Glitter or sparkle: Non-toxic.

Icicles or tinsel: These may cause choking or obstruction, especially in cats or small dogs. Since they may contain lead and tin, they may be toxic with repeated ingestion.

Snow scene globes: Snow scenes are plastic globes filled with water or glycerin. When shaken, snow appears to fall upon a Christmas scene. The “snow” is calcium carbonate, which is non-toxic. Sometimes the water may be contaminated with bacteria and food poisoning may result. The symptoms of food poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps.

Snow sprays: Many snow sprays contain acetone or methylene chloride. This solvent can be harmful when inhaled. Briefly inhaling the spray in a small, poorly ventilated room may result in nausea, lightheadedness and headache. Longer or more concentrated exposures can be more serious. Carefully follow container directions. Be sure to have the room well ventilated when you spray. Once dry, the snow particles are non-toxic.

Holiday guests

Alcohol: Alcohol poisoning is common in children year-round. The incidence increases during the holiday season when they have access to leftover cocktails. Children often imitate adults and they will drink partially filled glasses regardless of the contents. Always empty beverage glasses and place them out of the reach of curious kids. Children are much more sensitive to alcohol than adults. Alcohol is found in beer, wine and distilled liquor, such as vodka, whiskey, rum or bourbon. It is also in perfumes, aftershave lotions, and mouthwashes. Vanilla and almond extracts also have high alcohol content. Make sure to keep all of these products out of the reach of children.

Disc batteries: These flat-shaped, coin-like batteries are commonly used in watches, cameras, hearing aids, games and calculators. They may, if swallowed, stick in the throat or stomach, causing serious burns as the chemical leaks out. Also, children may insert these small objects into their ears or nose.

Cigarettes and cigars: Cigarettes and cigars contain enough nicotine to be dangerous to children. Children are known to eat whole cigarettes, cigars and the “butts”. Ingestion can result in vomiting, sweating and seizures. Empty all ashtrays at the end of the evening. Keep all ashtrays out of reach of children.

Medicines: Parents, grandparents and babysitters should be extra cautious during the holidays. Visitors often leave medicines on a nightstand or in the bathroom, making them easily accessible to children. Medications given to seniors often do not have child-resistant closures, allowing children to open them with very little difficulty. Also, purses of visitors may contain medicines and other potentially dangerous items. Remember that the homes of friends and relatives may not be poison-proof, particularly if children do not usually live there. Consider offering guests a locking cabinet for their medicine.

If you suspect a poisoning, call the Rocky Mountain Poison Center any time day or night at (800) 222-1222.


Thursday, Dec. 16 — 6 p.m., County Hazard Mitigation Proposal.

Friday, Dec. 24 — Extension Office closed.

Friday, Dec. 31 — Extension Office closed.

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