Trimmings can be toxic

Trimmings can be toxic

By Shellie Berg

By Shellie Berg

Staff Reporter

This holiday, while decking the halls with boughs of holly or eating, drinking and being merry, proceed with caution.

The Illinois Poison Center (IPC) is providing poison information to make sure everyone’s holiday season is a safe one.

The IPC is the only certified, regional poison center in Illinois. Call the center for information on poisonings and medication question.

Individuals who call converse with physicians, pharmacists and nurses and 75 percent of problems are corrected over the telephone.

National statistics are derived from the American Association of Poison Control Centers in Washington, D.C. The statistics are compiled from incidents reported throughout the country from 64 certified centers.

Although Dr. Tony Burda, chief poison specialist at the IPC, said that the data reported are from the entire year, he pointed to potential harmful substances associated with the season.

He said “exposures” refer to “potential harmful substances causing harm to the body.” Burda stated most exposures are ingestion, eye exposure, skin exposure or inhalation. He said statistics merely indicate the number of exposures.

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Beware of common plants such as poinsettias, hollys and the Christmas cactus. Last year, there were 3,236 exposures to poinsettias; 3,197 to hollys; and 859 to Christmas cactus.

Despite their rap, poinsettias fail to pose much danger. “It has this reputation,” Burda said. “At worst, it’s a minor irritant.” The Christmas cactus is also considered non-toxic, but holly is toxic.

However, he cited the mistletoe as being the deadliest plant of the holiday season. Other plants that make the IPC’s toxic list are amaryllis, azalea, boxberry, Christmas berry, Christmas cherry, Christmas pepper, Christmas rose, chrysanthemum, Jerusalem cherry, rhododendron, winter broom and winter cherry.

In addition to plants, alcohol can be unsafe for some people trying to be merry. Children sometimes will drink part of their parents’ alcoholic drinks. But ingesting three ounces of hard liquor (e.g. whiskey, vodka or gin) can pose danger to a child weighing 25 pounds or under. Symptoms include stimulation, dizziness and nausea. Yet those can progress into vomiting, drowsiness, breathing problems, coma and possibly, death, according to the IPC. The IPC has reports of 29,960 cases involving children under the age of 6 getting sick from alcohol.

Angel hair, made of spun glass, can cause severe irritation and pain. Play Doh ®or a fresh bread ball, takes care of the glass particles attached to skin. Avoid the decoration entirely.

Ornaments also can block or cut air passageways if swallowed, so the IPC recommends keeping them out of reach of children.

“Often, food products are used as centerpieces or tree decorations after being sprayed with clear varnish or lacquer,” Burda stated. “They may look appealing to young children, who may try to eat them. When wet, varnish contains dangerous petroleum distillates, but when dry, it’s non-poisonous.”

Also, various species of Christmas trees contain toxic oils, but toxic reactions are rare because large amounts aren’t normally ingested. Pine cones aren’t generally thought of as poisonous.

The yew tree is considered the most poisonous, and the IPC advises to not use them in homes with small children. Oils from the plants sold as fragrances may be harmful, because in their purest form, a small droplet can make its way into the lungs. Call the IPC’s 24-hour line at 1-800-942-5969.

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