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By Casey De Farria
Casey De Farria
07 Dec, 2021

Can you guess the top 10 Christmas poison risks?

The holiday season is a happy and exciting time but with it, comes some specific poisoning risks for kids (and adults).

How many of the top 10 did you guess?

  1. Button batteries
  2. Alcohol 
  3. BBQ cleaning products
  4. Grandpa’s medications
  5. Borax for slime projects
  6. Christmas pudding with coins
  7. Food poisoning
  8. Pool chemicals
  9. Science chemistry sets
  10. Toy magnets

Button batteries
The cover image for this blog is of a chicken filet, after 30 minutes and 4 hours of exposure to a button battery.
We talk about button batteries often, as they can be extremely dangerous if a baby or child is able to access one. At Christmas time this is especially true – toys, flashing decorations, and Christmas cards that make noise, are sometimes powered by button batteries.

NSW Poisons Information centre has these tips to prevent little ones from finding a button battery:

  • Ensure the button battery compartment is completely sealed with a security feature such as a screw or a closure requiring at least two movements to open the compartment. 
  • Check gift packaging for button battery contents and either remove batteries or warn the recipient.
  • Keep all household products with a button battery out of reach of children.
  • Dispose responsibly of button batteries in a bin that cannot be accessed by children.

If you or someone you know ingests a button battery, make sure not to eat, drink or induce vomiting, and immediately call 000 if the person has any difficulty breathing or decreased level of consciousness. if they otherwise look well but you suspect/know they have ingested a button battery immediately contact the Poisons Centre on 131126. and follow their instructions on going to your nearest hospital.

Many adults like to enjoy a drink at Christmas celebrations. These drinks often look appealing to kids. Alcohol can be very toxic to kids so it is important that nobody leaves alcoholic drinks lying around. If any suspected ingestion occurs, contact the Poisons Centre for advice in 131126.

BBQ Cleaning products
Cleaning the BBQ or oven for Christmas lunch can pose several risks as these cleaning products contain strong chemicals that can cause serious burns. When using these products, make sure to wear gloves and consider wearing eye protection to minimise risks. If you or a child is exposed flush the area with running water for 15-20 minutes and contact the poisons centre for advice on 131126.

Grandpas medication
Christmas is an exciting and busy time of the year with visitors coming to stay and routines disrupted. Easily accessible handbags with painkillers or prescription medications are a huge risk for little ones, who can become seriously ill if any are ingested. Remind all visitors to keep medications stored in an area out of reach of children. If any medication error occurs, contact the Poisons Centre for advice on 131126.

Borax for slime projects
Making slime can be a fun holiday activity with the kids, and is a popular gift. Sometimes, these products promote the use of borax which can be potentially poisonous. To prevent poisonous exposures it is important to keep borax stored out of reach of children. An adult should be the only person to handle the pure borax powder and supervise all slime making activities (not all slime recipes/products use borax, check the ingredients list). If you or anyone you know comes in contact with borax contact the Poisons Centre for advice on 131126.

Food poisoning
Food, glorious food! One of the best parts of the festive season is all the special foods we get to eat – from the Christmas pav, to Dad’s famous ham. Make sure to always consider preparation, storage and cooking methods when serving up your Christmas feast. Whilst food poisoning can occur at any time of the year, there is an increase in incidence during summer as conditions are favourable for bacteria growth. If food is stored, prepared and cooked properly, the risk will be minimal. A few helpful tips for some traditional Christmas dishes are:

  • Allow meat such as a Christmas turkey to completely defrost in the fridge before cooking.
  • Make sure seafood is fresh, stored in a cool environment out of direct sunlight, and not left out of the fridge for more than 2 hours.
  • Do not pick any unknown berries or flowers from the garden as ingredients or decorations in food as they may be poisonous.
  • Do not leave food sitting out in the heat/sun/flies, once people are done e sure to store away any wanted leftovers quickly and properly.

Feast away, but if any concerns arise, contact the Poisons Centre for advice on 131126.

Christmas pudding with coins
Is this a Christmas tradition in your family? The discovery of a coin in your Christmas pudding is meant to bring good luck, health, wealth and happiness to the recipient. The traditional use of a sixpence coin does not contain copper, however, the use of any coins currently used in Australia (yes, all cents and dollars!) can react with the acids in the fruit pudding. Another major concern with this dessert is choking on or swallowing the coin. Avoid giving to children and make sure anybody consuming this type of pudding is aware and cautious! If necessary contact the Poisons Centre for advice on 131126.

Pool Chemicals
Who doesn’t love a Christmas swim? This is an iconic part of the Australian Summer holiday season. Pool maintenance products contain various chemicals many of which can cause irritation, burns or respiratory symptoms if ingested, inhaled or they come in contact with the skin or eyes. A few tips from NSW Poisons Information Centre to reduce risks and stay safe are:

  • Do not mix pool chemicals.
  • Carefully open containers away from the face or body.
  • Keep chemicals stored in their original packaging out of reach of children.
  • Keep bottles sealed at all times when not in use.
  • Do not breathe in over the opening of the bottle or in an enclosed area with pool chemicals.
  • Add chemicals into the pool separately allowing time for dispersion between each chemical.
  • Do not allow children to help when managing pool chemicals.
  • Do not smoke or have any open flames around whilst handling chemicals.
  • Use a dry scoop for transfer of each chemical, do not use the same cup.
  • Add chemicals to the pool, never add water to the chemicals.
  • Wash hands thoroughly on completion.

If exposed to pool chemicals rinse the skin/eyes with running water for 15-20 minutes and contact the Poisons Centre for advice on 131126.

Science Chemistry sets
These are another popular gift and an exciting holiday experiment for a child, but certain ingredients can pose poisoning concerns when ingested or handled incorrectly. Some tips from NSW Poisons Information Centre to follow when performing an experiment with children are:

  • Wear gloves and provide the child with eye protection throughout the entire experiment.
  • Perform the experiment in an open environment with sufficient airflow to prevent inhalation of fumes.
  • Provide adult supervision for the duration of the experiment.
  • Adhere to the minimum age recommendations in the instructions.
  • Keep all ingredients out of reach of young children.

If exposed to any chemicals rinse the skin/eyes with running water for 15-20 minutes and contact the Poisons Centre for advice on 131126.

Toy Magnets
Many children’s toys contain magnets. Swallowing magnets may cause life-threatening damage, particularly when they are attracted to one another across internal tissues such as the bowel. Ideally, any magnets in toys should be too large for a child to swallow, and activities involving magnets (and children) should be supervised. To avoid ingestion of magnets, they should be counted on completion of play to ensure none are missing and stored out of reach of children. If ingestion occurs, call the Poisons Centre for advice on 131126

All information above has been taken from “Top 10 Christmas Poisoning Risks” originally published by The NSW Poisons Information Centre in 2018

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