Although holiday ornament injuries in children have not been well-documented by the medical profession injuries sustained by Christmas decorations have shown a pattern and have caused measures to be formulated toward preventing these injuries. One such study was undertaken by Harvard Medical School with the Children’s Hospital in Boston. Reviewing pediatric visits to emergency rooms over a 13-year period showed the median age of child patients was 2 years old. Records showed that almost 54% of the ER visits involved ingestions. Of these ingestions, around 46% were holiday ornaments while 11% were light bulbs. Except for 3 of the cases, ingested ornaments were made of glass and involved oral and delayed gastrointestinal bleeding. The remainder of the cases dealt with lacerations, eye injuries and minor electrocution injuries. (Read an abstract of the report at PubMed.gov)
Over half of the holiday ornament-related injuries treated at Boston Children’s Hospital involved decorations placed at a level easily reached by a toddler. Add the cases at emergency treatment centers and hospitals nationwide during the holiday season, and you can see why sometimes adhering to simple rules for holiday safety could have been avoided making the holidays much more enjoyable for all ages.
So, what can we do to insure our halls are decked out but keep our children safe?
Tree Decorating Safety Tips
Firstly, hang tinsel and all other small trims out of children’s reach. Hang only non-breakable ornaments on the family tree. If you have a wonderful collection of vintage glass ornaments, elect to have a second “adult” tree placed on a table top in a formal room.
Secondly, don’t hang ornaments with sharp edges within reach of small children. And, don’t place decorations with small, movable parts on lower branches. These can cause a choking problem for children and pets when grabbed from the tree.
Thirdly, avoid trims and decorations that look like candy or food. They may tempt a child to eat them. A tree strung with fake peppermint swags, cellophane-wrapped lollipops, candy canes, and gingerbread men. These can look like a childhood dream to us but be a nightmare to a toddler who doesn’t realize they are artificial.
Lastly, use caution when using such retro favorites as spun-glass “angel hair” or “bubble lights”. Both can be injurious if swallowed. If you are going to use spray snow, make sure your choice is labeled non-toxic.
Deck the halls safely
For most of the country, Christmas falls when snow is on the ground, and trees are bare. A natural part of Holiday decorating is decking the halls with vivid greens and rich reds. Much of this is done with artificial pine garlands and wreaths. But the bright splash of color of natural Christmas flowers and berries is a tradition for many. Mistletoe is hung in kissing balls, and holly berries are woven with evergreens on the mantle place. These are hung high with good reason. Some favorite holiday plants are toxic or poisonous to pets and children.
Poinsettia seems to be the holiday plant with the worst reputation as a poisonous plant. Yet, it is the plant that most likely won’t do more than make you feel sick if you eat it. However, mistletoe deserves its bad rap as a toxic plant. Ingesting it warrants a call to Poison Control and immediate medical attention. The same goes for Holly berries.
Indoors or out, everything looks festive when holly is present. Holly grows over most planting zones, making it an easily acquired natural decoration. If a child eats a berry or two, he or she won’t come to harm. However, if they ingest a couple dozen berries, they can cause death, so having Holly berries around children and pets is a serious concern. Moreover, although it is the berries that attract children, the bark, leaves and seeds are also toxic. The poison that is in the berry is theobromine, an alkaloid closely related to caffeine. It is also found in chocolate (one reason why chocolate is toxic to dogs). In the holly berry, this alkaloid is present in heavy dosages.
Whether or not mistletoe is poisonous depends on what type they are. Mistletoe of the Phoradendron species contains phoratoxin, which can cause blurred vision, gastrointestinal pain, nausea, diarrhea, blood pressure changes and death. The Viscum species of the plant contains a different mixture of toxins, including the poisonous alkaloid tyramine. So, it is best to avoid them in your holiday decorating. Or, if the plant is part of tradition you feel must stay, keep all such plants high and out of reach of children.
Although the rumor that Poinsettia plants are poisonous has been around for some time, its reputation as such is more of an urban myth. Poinsettias are not a dangerous risk in a home. Poisindex, the resource that poison centers nationwide look to for information, claims a child weighing 50 pounds would have to consume over 500 Poinsettia leaves to reach even a potentially toxic level. However, they can cause vomiting and discomfort in pets, so if your dog or cat tends to be a leaf nibbler, you may want to keep an eye on them while around the plant. Christmas cactus is another plant that can cause a pet discomfort when eaten. The best thing to do when you have pets is to make sure they can’t reach the plant.
Lastly, there is one more holiday plant to monitor when children and pets are present. It is live Christmas trees. Pine and fir are only mildly toxic, although even this may be increased if the tree has been sprayed with a flame retardant. Tree oils may cause irritation of the mouth and skin. While children or pets don’t usually eat entire tree branches, the big concern, if any pine needles are ingested, is damage or puncture of the gastrointestinal tract.