November 30, 2007

Tennessee Poison Control Center offers holiday safety advice; Keep a watchful eye for unsafe toys and potentially dangerous poisonous plants

Poisonous plants, holiday decorations and unsafe toys are just a few of the potential hazards children face during the holidays.

Poisonous plants, holiday decorations and unsafe toys are just a few of the potential hazards children face during the holidays.

The Tennessee Poison Control Center (TPCC) is asking people to be alert for potential holiday hazards including recalled toys and poisons around the home. During the holidays seasonal poisoning possibilities include: prescription medications, lamp oil, potpourri, Christmas tree ornaments that may resemble candy or other food items, bubbling tree lights, artificial snow, and plants such as mistletoe or holly berry.

Michelle Grant, RN, MSN, CSPI, a poison specialist with the TPCC, said that recent recalls of several toys have prompted parents to raise questions regarding the safety of toys this holiday season.

Grant says many of the recalled toys have been removed from store shelves due to high concentrations of lead being detected in these toys.

“The risk of lead toxicity is considered very low, occurring through chronic or excessive exposure to lead,” she said. “You should discuss any further concerns about possible unsafe lead exposure with your child’s pediatrician.”

Grant adds that lead poisoning is just one concern with toys. She cautions that the biggest ongoing safety concern with toys is the hazard of choking.

“The No. 1 safety concern still remains choking. Toys should be chosen based on the recommended age of the child, which should be labeled on the package,” she said. “Parents should consider the age of the youngest child in the house and not necessarily the child the toy is intended for, since small parts often end up in the hands of younger siblings. Accidents from ride-on toys (such as scooters and tricycles) also pose risks to children of all ages.”

There are other holiday poisoning hazards the TPCC is asking parents to be aware of.

“This time of year, we receive several calls from parents when their child has just eaten a holiday decoration, artificial snow, poinsettia leaf or mistletoe,” said Grant.

Potential for exposures to these items can increase during the holidays due to distractions parents may face when decorating, cooking and celebrating.

Grant says to also remember to “childproof” your home if children are visiting over the holidays. She said the TPCC receives many calls about children getting into adult medications that are within easy reach.

“We have a lot of calls about children getting into medicines that grandparents are not used to keeping out of the reach of little ones, either when the grandchildren are visiting them or when they bring their medicines when they visit during the holiday,” Grant explains.

“Remember to place anything that is harmful out of the reach of children.”

Some common topics the TPCC receives calls about each holiday season include:

Grant says poinsettias are non-toxic, but present a choking hazard. “Poinsettias are not toxic and do not pose a health threat,” she explained. “But like many houseplants, poinsettia leaves and stems can cause a minor upset stomach (nausea, vomiting and diarrhea) if swallowed by young children or pets.”

Mistletoe and holly berries
Mistletoe can be extremely toxic to children and pets. Mistletoe berries, and to a lesser extent the leaves and stems, contain poisonous substances that slow the heart. Other toxins in mistletoe induce nausea and vomiting. In fact, swallowing just a few mistletoe berries can cause serious problems for a toddler. Holly berries can contain ilex acid, which irritates the stomach and causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. A child usually must swallow several holly berries before serious problems develop.

Jerusalem cherry plant
One of the more toxic plants sometimes displayed at Christmas is the Jerusalem cherry plant. Its bright yellow-to-red berries contain solanine. When ingested, solanine causes vomiting and diarrhea, slows the heart, lowers blood pressure, depresses breathing and induces coma.

Christmas lights
Keep "bubbling" lights away from children. These lights with their bright colors and bubbling movement can tempt curious children to break candle-shaped glass, which can cut, and attempt to drink the liquid, which contains a hazardous chemical.

Artificial snow
Children can choke if they try to eat the fake plastic snow that is often used in holiday decorations. Artificial snow sprays can irritate lungs if inhaled. To avoid injury, read container labels and follow directions carefully.

Glass ornaments
Be sure to place ornaments out of reach of children. The TPCC receives frequent calls about children breaking and eating the pieces.

Carbon Monoxide
Another common seasonal hazard around the home is carbon monoxide from a fireplace. Make sure the chimney has been recently inspected by a professional. Carbon monoxide, which is a colorless, odorless gas, is a silent killer. Get carbon monoxide detectors for your home, and never bring any products designed to be used outside into your home to assist with heating.

For further information regarding recalled toys, please visit

If you have questions about potential poisons in your home, contact the Tennessee Poison Control Center at (800) 222-1222, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Your call will put you in touch with medical professionals who can help in a poison emergency, or answer any poison-related question. All calls to the poison hotline are free. The center gives advice and makes medical referrals to people who may have come in contact with poison or other dangerous substances, or who have overdosed on drugs.

Media Contact: John Howser, (615) 322-4747