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Children’s of Alabama offers holiday poison safety tips

By Terri Robinson

Tis the season in Birmingham, and that means you should be aware of new poisons potentially entering your home. Ann Slattery, a clinical toxicologist and director of the Regional Poison Control Center at Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham, sat down with Bham Now to talk about keeping your family safe during the holidays.

Bham Now: Let’s start with plants. Which ones should we be concerned about over the holidays?

Slattery: Toxic holiday plants include mistletoe berries, amaryllis, azaleas and Jerusalem cherries, also called Christmas peppers, which look like little cherry tomatoes and are very dangerous. Holly berries can cause GI (gastrointestinal) upset. If it’s two holly berries, we’re not that worried about; if it’s 10 berries, it can cause an upset stomach.

Bham Now: What about poinsettias?

Slattery: Poinsettias are not the poisonous plant everyone thinks they are. You’d have to eat 500 leaves before you got an upset stomach. In 1918, there was a case of a poisoning, not in the mainland of the U.S., but it is believed the plant was misidentified. It does have a sap that can be stinging or irritating to the eye. We do not consider it a dangerous plant.

What should one do (and not do) if exposed?

Slattery: If a toxic plant is ingested, do not induce vomiting. Do not do a “blind sweep” of the mouth on a child of any age (that’s sticking a finger in the mouth to check for objects without looking; you could push whatever is inside in further.) Instead, open the child’s mouth and look at the roof of the mouth to check if a piece of plant is stuck there. If it is, it could later fall and the child could choke on it.  Then offer small sips of water, and call the Regional Poison Control Center at Children’s of Alabama at 1-800-222-1222.

Bham Now: Let’s talk about toys. What should we look out for?

Slattery: Button batteries are a major hazard. They’re found in some toys, as well as decorations, singing greeting cards and devices, such as hearing aids and pedometers. The 20 millimeter size, which is a little smaller than a quarter, can get lodged in the esophagus and burn very quickly, within two to three hours.

Magnets are another major hazard found in toys. Larger ones can be a choking hazard, but smaller, easy-to-swallow ones the size of a pea are very dangerous, too. If one magnet is ingested, it will probably pass uneventfully, but we do recommend calling poison control. Then, normally, they will x-ray to determine the location.

For more on the mobile and modern Birmingham and the full story on holiday poison safety visit: https://bhamnow.com/2018/12/13/holiday-poison-safety-childrens-of-alabama-regional-poison-control-center/