Keep the holidays from being ho-ho-hazardous to kids

by Lois Lee, MD, MPH on December 15, 2009

ornamentsLois Lee, MD, MPH works in Children’s Emergency Department Injury Prevention Program

Many parents know that kids like to put things in their mouth, nose and ears—even if they know those things don’t belong there. Holiday decorations are no exception. Every year in the Emergency Department (ED), we see children who get injuries from holiday decorations—usually from trying to eat them. But children can sustain other injuries as well—and usually in ways that an adult would never think about.

My colleagues and I have just published a study in the journal Pediatric Emergency Care about holiday-ornament related injuries in children. We saw an average of five children a year who came to the ED for injuries from a holiday ornament. Most of the injuries were from glass ornaments, but some were related to the light bulb part of the decoration. Almost half of the children came to the ED because they tried to eat the ornament. Twelve of these children had bleeding from their mouth or gastrointestinal tract (stomach and intestines). Others had cuts on their skin by glass in the ornament or light bulb. Two children suffered minor electrocution when they put the ornament in the electrical socket. Another child placed part of an ornament fragment in his ear canal.

The majority of these children had an X-ray as part of their evaluation. Two children had to go to the operating room (OR) for further exploration of the ornament foreign bodies in the mouth or airway. Six children were admitted to the hospital for observation.

In addition to holiday ornament injuries, there are other types of injuries that we see XMAS stockingsaround the holidays. The Christmas tree can fall on children if they pull on an ornament and the tree is not well secured. Stocking holders, which can be placed on a mantle, are very popular, but can cause head injury if the child pulls on the stocking and pulls the holder (which is often heavy) onto their heads. Candles can cause burns to children or fires in the home if not well monitored.

So here are a few tips to keep your children safe this holiday season:

  • Consider placing ornaments on higher branches of the Christmas tree to keep them out of reach of curious toddlers.
  • Cover electrical outlets so children can not put an ornament or wire in them.
  • Candles should only be lit in rooms where people are present.
  • Take care in using stocking holders if the stockings hang low enough for children to reach.
  • Take care in placing garlands that hang from windows or other surfaces, as they can be a strangulation hazard if a small child gets caught in them.
  • Make sure the Christmas tree has a secure base to prevent it from falling on a child.

And as always, close supervision of young children is the best way to keep them safe this holiday season—and all year round.

Read this LA Times article highlighting Children’s research on the perils posed by holiday ornaments.

3 comments

  • http://www.hazelana.blogspot.com Amanda Donovan

    i would like to add button batteries to your list of common household items that are prevalent at the holidays and can be deadly. our daughter hazel spent 10 days intubated on 7 south PICU @ CHB after swallowing a button battery that she found in a remote control. these batteries leak corrosive within an hour of becoming introduced to a warm, moist environment and will at beast leave serious burns and at worst destroy all of the tissue. hazel had burns the length of her esophagus, which was open to her chest cavity in several places, and was unable to breathe on her own due to the inflammation resulting from the injury. we were lucky that she survived, but has needed surgery to repair the scar tissue in her esophagus and has ongoing issues.

    button battery safety is not regulated beyond the CPSC, and if an item is not considered to be a toy designated for children, it has minimal safety features to prevent a child from accessing the battery. musical greeting cards are one item that almost every family can find in their home around the holidays, and they contain powerful and small batteries that can easily fall out of the car for a child to access. even AAA batteries can do catastrophic damage when inserted into a nose or an ear. toys, remotes, electronics are becoming more common and smaller, as have the batteries that power them, and they can be deadly very quickly. we were fortunate, but have met many other families who were not as lucky.

    the national capital poison control center in washington maintains a free 24-hour hotline for families who have experienced a battery injury now or in the past, and their website has a plethora of information about injuries and prevention. along with CHB, they have been an invaluable support for us through our daughters recovery. their number is 202-625-3333 (they accept collect calls), and their web site is http://www.poison.org/battery. but if you suspect that a child has ingested a battery, get them to the closest emergency room as soon as possible.

    thank you all so much for everything you do.

  • Amy

    Amanda, well said.

    I would like to add to the list, family meals that are buffet style. The crockpots, sterno warmers, and other hotplates intended for keeping food warm on a homemade buffet. There are also the hot drink stations for coffee, hot cocoa, and mulled wine. Throw in the added hazards of power chords and unsecured table cloths, and you have child burn stations without really realizing it.

    My sister and I, at different times in our childhood, ended up with whole pots of fresh coffee spilled on us. One was caused by an adult’s stumble, and another was caused by a power chord that found it’s way into little hands.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ChildrensHospitalBoston?ref=search&sid=100000131990636.2537082010..1 Children’s Hospital Boston Facebook

    *comments taken from Children’s Facebook fan page*

    Maggie
    Thanks for sharing! Just want to add… toddlers are fascinated with Christmas trees… mine pulled our tree down last year, luckily it didn’t land ON her! But that’s another potential disaster to watch out for!

    Donna Caffarelli
    Watch out for the pointsetta plant also, my niece and daughter ate some of the leaves as toddlers, we had to take them to the ER

Previous post:

Next post: