Holiday Dangers for the Tiniest Revelers

Silver or gold tinsel tossed about a Christmas tree may add a dash of whimsy, but if not kept away from young children can easily turn into a choking hazard. To avoid turning the holidays gloomy, Harris County Hospital District pediatricians offer some tips for keeping the youngest revelers safe this season.

Items such as tinsel, electric lights, wrapping paper, button or disc batteries and ornaments — especially ones that look like candy and food — are great temptations for youngsters.

“At six months, children are able to scoot or crawl on their own and can make it to things really fast,” says Dr. Tamara Callis, pediatrician, A.C. Taylor Health Clinic, and professor, Baylor College of Medicine. “By nine months or so, kids can start using their fingers and thumbs to pick up small things. That’s the age where everything is going into their mouth and that putting-everything-in-mouth stage usually continues to about age 2 or 3.”

Remember, this stage of development for children is normal. They’re curious and want to touch, see and feel everything around them, Callis adds. Support their natural curiosity with child-friendly toys and with extra attention, and by making holiday decorating plans with them in mind.

“Make sure to keep plants, lights, glass and small things out of their reach,” says Dr. Marcus Hanfling, pediatrician, Pediatric and Adolescent Health Center and professor, Baylor College of Medicine. “As a guideline, if something small fits inside a toilet paper roll, it’s probably a choking hazard for children.”

Decorative plants like poinsettias, mistletoe or holly berries also pose a danger to children. While not life-threatening, eating any of these plants in varied amounts can cause severe stomach pains, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

“If children do eat some of these plants, don’t stick anything down their mouth or give them anything to make them vomit,” Hanfling says. “The best thing to do is call Poison Control (800-222-1222) and follow their instructions.”

Signs that your child is choking or has swallowed something toxic:
• Lips or inside of mouth turn blue
• Gagging
• Drooling
• Confused or excited look

Signs to call 9-1-1 or take your child to the hospital:
• Passed out
• Seizures or tremors
• Labored breathing
• Heavy wheezing
• Chest pain
• Burning in throat or stomach

“Be proactive, instead of thinking of it after the fact, try to think what’s appealing to a small child having a first or second holiday and plan for it,” Callis says. “You as a parent have to make ensure a safe and pleasant holiday season for everyone.”

Some prevention tips:
• Decorate only upper portion of tree
• Use non-breakable ornaments
• Place decorative plants in high areas and not on the floor
• Do a clean sweep of area after decorating
• Put up gates around tree or plants
• Keep small batteries used in watches, cameras and games away
• Don’t leave partially filled glasses with alcohol around
• Don’t smoke around children or leave tobacco products around

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