December 19, 2023

Holiday hazards: Poinsettias are not as bad as you think, but keep toddlers away from Grandma’s purse

What toxicology hazards occur during the holidays? A specialist from the Tennessee Poison Center has a roundup.

As the holiday season arrives, there are potential toxic exposures that can occur during the decorating and family gatherings.

Holiday Ornaments and Lights

The ornaments and lights commonly found this time of year are primarily a choking concern. Lacerations may also occur if the ornament breaks. Licking paint on the ornaments is unlikely to cause harm from lead exposure due to the small surface area of one ornament.

Bubble lights are different however — they contain methylene chloride. This solvent can irritate the oral mucosa and cause vomiting. Methylene chloride is converted in the body to carbon monoxide, but a sip/swallow of it would unlikely be a concern-If larger exposure is suspected, call the poison center-evaluation in the ED may be in order.


With alcohol being a common part of holiday celebrations, pediatric exposures become a potential worry. More than a swallow or two of a alcoholic beverage (depending on its strength) can be a problem for a toddler, causing lethargy and potential hypoglycemia.


Christmas trees are not toxic, but can present a choking hazard to young children.

The poinsettia has much internet poison lore associated with it but is not terribly toxic – if a child ingests some, the main concern would be choking. If a child ingests several leaves, minor gastrointestinal upset may occur.

Artificial Mistletoe is not toxic (but can present a choking hazard). A real mistletoe plant of the American variety is a simply gastrointestinal irritant. The European varieties are potentially cardiotoxic as they contain cardiac glycosides, but are usually not available in the US.

Cannabis and related

We have seen a proliferation of pediatric exposure to ‘edibles’ over the past few years.. These come in all forms – gummies, chocolates, baked goods. To a child, these are tempting, of course. Pediatric exposures are usually referred to the ED as it can take hours for the cannabinoid to metabolize and the child to become symptomatic. Edibles can cause the rare pediatric seizure.


Pediatric medication exposures bloom this time of year – relative’s purses, boxed pill planners, medicine cabinets are all potential targets of the curious child. Pill planners are a big worry since multiple medications including cardiac drugs, antidepressants and hypoglycemics are available in one device..

As always, the Poison Center is always available for consultation.

Wishing all of you a happy and healthy holiday season!

Poison Help Hotline (available 24/7): 1-800-222-1222