December 11, 2013

Tennessee Poison Center physician offers tips to prevent holiday poisonings

The holidays are a relaxed time for families and friends to spend time together, but before children are out of school for the holidays and tiny friends and relatives come to visit take some time to poison proof your home.

One of the most important poison prevention tips is to make sure that alcoholic drinks and products that contain alcohol are placed out of a child’s reach. This is especially important at parties and holiday gatherings when children can find cups containing leftover alcohol within their reach.

“Alcohol – beer, wine, mixed drinks, and even facial cleaners, mouthwash and baking extracts — can make children sleepy and sick, and in large quantities can even be deadly,” said Donna Seger, M.D., professor of Clinical Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and medical director of the Tennessee Poison Center.

Seger said the holidays are also a good time to familiarize yourself with what festive plants and holiday decorating items can be poisonous for children and pets.

Poinsettias have gotten a bad rap, but they’re only mildly toxic when ingested. Other plants and products found around the home during the holidays can be far more dangerous, she said.

“Contact with many substances that are considered poisonous can result in local irritation, nausea and vomiting, seizures, damage to the heart and even death,” Seger said. “It’s wise to take a look around your home before small children arrive and be safe rather than sorry.”

Seger offered the following poison prevention tips:

  • Keep alcohol, including baking extracts, out of reach of children.
  • Color additives used in fireplace fires are toxic and should be stored out of reach.
  • Artificial snow looks beautiful, but can be harmful if inhaled. Use it in a well-ventilated place.
  • Although the poinsettia and Christmas cactus are not poisonous, mistletoe berries, holly berries (more than five) and Jerusalem cherry can be. If they are used in decorating, make sure children and pets cannot reach them.

For more information about toxic products in the home during the holiday and all year round, visit or call the poison help hotline at (800) 222-1222.