By Wendy Allen
The holidays are here and for many that means buying gifts to go under the tree. So we’re taking notice of some unusual gifts that can be troublesome for the recipient and family.
Let’s start with amphibians (frogs) and reptiles (turtles) that are housebound pets and given as gifts. The African dwarf frog can sometimes spread human salmonella typhimurium infections. The spread of salmonella is common with frogs and reptiles that live in aquariums and the bacteria is normally generated from the damp, moist area that these species are housed. The U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention suggests thorough hand washing after touching an amphibian or reptile, including the food or the animal’s surroundings. Symptoms of salmonella can include diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps. If these symptoms occur, immediately call the poison center at 800-222-1222 for specific instructions.
Poinsettias and mistletoe aren’t as poisonous as commonly believed. Not a single death has been reported from ingesting these plants. Eating the entire mistletoe plant can cause vomiting, redness of the skin, drowsiness or restlessness, hallucinations and, in rare cases, seizures. Ingesting a large amount of the poinsettia plant can result in a mild stomach upset. The sap can cause a skin rash and the affected area should be washed with soap and water.
Other holiday plants that pose mild hazards include:
Amaryllis: Tropical American/African plant that if digested can cause stomach irritation but is nontoxic.
Christmas cactus: Considered nontoxic but its needles can irritate the skin.
Christmas trees: Ingesting bark can cause nausea, the needles are a choking hazard and the sap may irritate the skin.
Holly berries: Small red berries if swallowed in significant amounts can cause nausea, vomiting, stomach pain or diarrhea in small children.
Pyracantha: If large amounts of the berries are eaten, a stomachache may result.
However, faster than a melting snowflake, holiday wonder can be shattered by a tragic poisoning accident. Here are some safety tips that will help ensure that your family’s celebration remains safe and joyous:
Angel Hair: This finely spun glass is an irritant to the skin and eyes, and throat if swallowed. Wear gloves when handling it.
Bubble Lights: Contain a small amount of methylene chloride, also found in paint removers. One “opened” light may cause mild skin or mouth irritation.
Candles: Consist of wax, synthetic materials, nonpoisonous colors and scents that are nontoxic, but pose a choking hazard to small children if swallowed.
Christmas tree preservatives: These commercial products usually contain nontoxic, concentrated sugar solutions, but solutions made with aspirin or bleach can be harmful if consumed in large doses.
Fireplace color crystals: Can be mistaken by children for candy. They consist of metal salts such as copper, selenium, arsenic and antimony. If swallowed, the crystals can cause irritation or burning to the mouth and throat. Large amounts can result in heavy metal poisoning.
Gift wrap: Most are nontoxic, but foil or colored wrap may contain lead.
Icicles or tinsel: Can cause choking in pets or small children, and may contain lead or tin and can be toxic if swallowed.
Snow globes: Contain acetone or methylene chloride.
Snow sprays: Contain acetone or methylene chloride and can be harmful if inhaled. Longer or concentrated exposures can become serious.
Tree ornaments: Ingesting broken pieces can cause choking or intestinal blockage. Antique or foreign-made items with lead-based paint can be toxic.
Alcohol: Children often imitate adults and are prone to drink partially empty glasses. In addition to alcoholic beverages, alcohol also can be found in perfumes, aftershave lotions, mouthwashes and hand sanitizers. Keep all of these products out of the reach of children.
Batteries: Contain acid or alkaline and are caustic. If swallowed, they can stick in the throat or stomach and can cause serious burns if chemical leakage occurs. They can be a choking hazard.
Cigars: Contain enough nicotine to be fatal to children. Ingestion can result in vomiting, sweating and seizures. Keep all ashtrays and smoking materials out of the reach of children.
Medicines: Visiting family and friends may leave medications in the open and easily accessible to children. Purses or bags may contain medications as well. The homes of relatives or friends might not be poison-proof.
If you suspect an accidental poisoning or have question about any holiday product, call the Texas Poison Center Network at 800-222-1222.
Located at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, the SETPC is one of a network of six regional centers in the Texas Poison Center Network established by the Texas Legislature to provide prevention and emergency treatment information to the public and health-care providers concerning poisonings or toxic exposures.
The center is funded by the Texas Department of State Health Services, the Health Resources and Services Administration in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as well as public and private donations. For more information, call the helpline at 800-222-1222 or visit www.poisoncontrol.org or www.utmb.edu/setpc.
Wendy Allen is a community educator with the Southeast Texas Poison Center at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.