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Safety tips to keep holiday items from becoming potential hazards

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

With the holiday season in full swing, families are planning celebrations and vacations, as well as decorating their houses, all of which may create hazards.

Experts from the Indiana Poison Center provided the following helpful hints and precautions for handling potentially hazardous items to ensure residents a safe, happy and healthy holiday.

* Angel Hair: Can be irritating to the skin, eyes, and throat if swallowed. Wear gloves to avoid eye and skin irritation while decorating.

* Bubble Lights: Contain a small amount of methylene chloride, which is also found in paint removers. Nibbling on an intact or "opened" light may cause mild skin or mouth irritation.

* Candles: Liquid candles pose a major aspiration risk and should never be used in an area where children may have access to them. Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other plants or trees. Always use non-flammable holders and place candles where they will not fall. Solid candles consist of wax and other non-toxic synthetic materials.

* Tree ornaments: Could cause choking and/or blockage in the intestines if swallowed by children. Antique or foreign-made ornaments may be decorated with lead-based paint although lead toxicity is unlikely from a small, one-time ingestion.

* Tree preservatives: Commercial tree preservatives usually contain a concentrated sugar solution and are considered non-toxic, but homemade solutions could contain aspirin or bleach, which can be potentially harmful if a large amount is swallowed.

* Poinsettia Plants: Contrary to earlier belief, poinsettias are safe to have in the home during the holidays. Small ingestions do not result in significant symptoms. Poinsettia plants have a mild irritant, which can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The milky sap from the flower may cause skin irritation.

* Holly, Mistletoe, Jerusalem Cherry and Bittersweet: All are poisonous holiday plants and should not be located where children and pets can reach them. Watch for dried berries that may have fallen to the floor.

* Gift-Wrap: Foil and colored gift-wrap may contain lead. Do not let babies chew on these papers. Glitter or sparkle is non-toxic.

* Icicles or tinsel: These may cause choking or obstruction, especially in small pets. Since they may contain lead and tin, they may be toxic with repeated ingestion.

* Snow scene globes: Snow scenes are plastic globes filled with water or glycerin. The "snow" in the globes is calcium carbonate, which is non-toxic. Sometimes the water may be contaminated with bacteria and food poisoning may result. The symptoms of food poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps.

* Snow Sprays: Many snow sprays contain acetone or methylene chloride, which can be harmful when inhaled. Inhaling the spray in a small, poorly ventilated room may result in nausea, lightheadedness and headache. Longer or more concentrated exposures can be more serious. Follow container directions carefully. Be sure to have the room well ventilated when you spray. Once dry, the snow particles are non-toxic.

* Disc Batteries: These flat-shaped, coin-like batteries are commonly used in watches, cameras, hearing aids, games and calculators. If swallowed, they may stick in the throat or stomach, causing serious burns as the chemical leaks out. Also, children may insert these small objects into their ears or nose.

With a few precautions and extra awareness, a safe and enjoyable holiday season can be had by all. If a poisoning is suspected, call the Indiana Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 immediately.

Poison center experts are standing by 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to help with poison emergencies.

To learn more about poison prevention and to receive a free home safety check list, a magnet and phone stickers, call the Indiana Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222, or visit www.clarian.org/poisoncontrol.

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