November 19, 2003
Holiday prep should include poison control
By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—If grandchildren are headed your way for the holidays, now’s the time to ensure your home is safe for little ones.
Everything from those vitamins on your nightstand to the cleaning supplies under your sink can pose a danger to your youngest houseguests, warns Lauren Fairburn, coordinator for Think First, Methodist Rehabilitation Center’s statewide injury prevention program.
“According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than half of all poison exposures involve children under age 6,” Fairburn said. “And these poisonings often occur when there are changes in their normal routine—such as when they’re visiting family at Thanksgiving or Christmas.”
If you’ve forgotten what it’s like to have small children underfoot, ask their parents for advice on how to “child-proof” your home, suggests Fairburn. “You may think that’s unnecessary because you plan to keep a close eye on the kids. But it’s really better to be extra cautious considering how distracting holiday festivities can be.”
Michael Hughes, director of the Mississippi Regional Poison Control Center at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, said the holiday season almost always brings a call about a child getting into a grandparent’s medication.
“Grandparents normally put their medication on a bedside table and forget to put it somewhere where a child can’t get to it,” Hughes said. “Or if they’re the ones visiting, they leave medication in their luggage or overnight case where it’s easily accessible. If they’re on cardiac medication or oral diabetes medication, just one of those tablets can be potentially dangerous to a small child.”
Over-the-counter medications and other health care products also can pose a threat, said registered nurse Debbie Cook, education coordinator for the poison control center. For example, too much acetaminophen (i.e. Tylenol) or vitamins with iron can cause liver damage.
Fairburn said since the majority of poisonings occur in the kitchen, grandparents would be wise to check the area thoroughly for possible poisons. “Move cleaning supplies from under the sink and put them out of reach. Also make sure that alcoholic beverages are inaccessible, particularly if they’re mixed with something that might be considered a kid’s drink, such as fruit punch or orange juice.”
Also pay special attention to holiday decorations. Cook said ingesting Jerusalem cherry plants and mistletoe and holly berries can cause gastric distress. Additives used to prolong the freshness of your Christmas tree also could be a threat, so check the package advisory, Cook said. And make fragrance items, such as potpourri and essential oils, off-limits, as well.
Cosmetics and personal care products are another common cause of poisonings, which could explain why 21 percent of poisonings occur in bathrooms. “Rubbing alcohol can be dangerous and a lot of people use that to clean their ears,” Cook said. “Another thing that can be poisonous is a grandparent’s perfume or cologne because the alcohol percentage can be pretty high.”
Cook said grandparents also should be vigilant about keeping up with their hearing aid batteries, as several poison control calls each year concern children swallowing those. “We’ve even had a call with someone swallowing a C battery,” Cook said.
The poison control center offers handouts and programs on how to prevent poisonings and will be staffed throughout the holidays to answer calls. If you need assistance, call 1-800-222-1222.