Holiday Dangers in the Home

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In the winter season, many homes convert to a holiday wonderland. With the introduction of candles, lights and even a tree in the house as holiday decorations, there are bound to be some dangers that parents haven’t thought about. Most parents have probably “kid-proofed,” but this may change when the holiday decorations come out. Patrick Mularoni, M.D., from Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, discusses potential dangers in the home.

Let’s start with the poinsettia plant. I’ve heard that they might be a problem for kids and pets. Are they toxic?

The poinsettia, which is the Christmas plant with the large red leaves, gets a bad rap. It does have some toxic properties but is mildly toxic. In humans, you have to eat a significant number of leaves to get sick. In order to reach toxic levels, a child would need to eat 1 leaf for every pound he or she weighs. So the average 2 year old would have to eat 30 leaves to reach a toxic dose. If a child does eat enough to become sick, the symptoms would be nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. People do talk about cats and dogs eating the plant and becoming sick. Although rare, it is much more plausible because they are smaller and would require fewer leaves to become sick.

I can imagine that the Christmas tree can be potentially dangerous. Is the main problem house fires?

Yes, house fires from Christmas trees are a potential problem. Each year in the United States more than 200 homes are burned in fires that start with the Christmas tree. This can happen from faulty wiring or it can happen when you put the tree too close to a heat source. If the tree dries out, it makes for perfect firewood, and it can go up in flames quickly. So make sure that your tree is watered and away from any potential heat source.

We need to think about fire risks with any of the holiday traditions that include the lighting of candles. With Hanukkah wrapping up and Christmas right around the corner, remember to never leave candles unattended especially when children are around. Many stores sell candles in holiday scents that are meant to be lit on a table or counter. Many children don’t see candles very often other than maybe on a birthday cake. Around the holidays, we need to remember that fire is always enticing to little kids, and if you are going to light a candle in the house, sit down with the little ones to discuss the risk that fire poses.

We talked about Christmas trees and fire risk. Are there other precautions we should be taking with the Christmas tree?

Absolutely. The Christmas tree can be dangerous for young children, especially those who might want to try to climb it. As a parent, if you have preschool age kids, you might consider securing the tree to the wall. Those little inquisitive hands can easily pull the tree right over. Another risk is the ornaments that we put on the tree. There should be a level of kid-safe ornaments that are within reach, and make sure that the breakable ornaments are hung too high for little hands to reach.

The other thing a parent needs to do is check around the base of the tree often, eventually as the tree dries out, ornaments will have the chance to fall to the ground. You are going to want to make sure that you find the ornament before any little one does. I have seen more than one child in the Emergency Center who was found chewing on a breakable ornament.

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