Top 10 Christmas poisoning risks

Author: Genevieve Adamo
News Date: 22/12/2018 11:58 AM
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A special Christmas message from Elf on the shelf and NSW Poisons Information Centre; be aware of our top 10 poisoning risks this Christmas.
  1. Button batteries
  2. Alcohol 
  3. BBQ cleaning products
  4. Grandpa's medications
  5. Borax for slime projects
  6. Sixpence Christmas pudding
  7. Food poisoning
  8. Pool chemicals
  9. Science chemistry sets
  10. Toy magnets

For immediate 24/7 advice on potential poisoning risks, contact the Poisons Centre immediately on 131126. Have a safe and Merry Christmas from all the staff here at the NSW Poisons Information Centre. 

Button  Batteries
Button Batteries are found in a wide variety of everyday products, and with Christmas cards, gifts, and decorations around, they are even more likely to be found by young children. Button Batteries range in size from as small as a few millimetres, to as large as a 10 cent coin, and are found in all sorts of products including toys, TV remotes, watches, calculators, flashing decorations, flameless candles, reading lights, blood glucose monitors and kitchen scales. If ingested, a button battery can become stuck in the oesophagus or another region of the body and cause serious burns in as little as two hours. This can be life threatening and requires medical attention immediately to prevent further damage. 

Tips to prevent exposure to Button Batteries include:
  • 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 which 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 go to the hospital. Contact the Poisons Centre for advice on 131126.

A drink at Christmas can be a nice way to celebrate or relax during this holiday season, but it can be harmful to children if ingested. It is not uncommon for a child to mistake an alcoholic drink for apple juice, water or a "lolly" drink, especially after lunch when parents are having a well-earned rest. Alcohol can be more toxic in young children, so make sure to be responsible this festive season and not leave any 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 are exposed flush the area with running water for 15-20 minutes and contact the poisons centre for advice on 131126.

Grandpa's medication
Christmas is an exciting and busy time of the year with visitors coming to stay and routines disrupted. Grandparents will bring their medications and are not used to keeping them locked away from little people, increasing the risk of accidental exposure to a child. Taking a medication that has not been prescribed can cause poisoning, and as little as one tablet of some medicines can be life threatening in a toddler. Remind all visitors to keep medications stored in an area out of reach of children.
Adults can also be distracted and make errors with medications when out of routine and on holidays. Keep a record of doses taken and set reminders for your usual dose time. 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, however it can involve 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. If you or anyone you know comes in contact with borax contact the Poisons Centre for advice on 131126.

Food poisoning
With many celebrations during this festive season it is important to 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
Make it a meal to remember this Christmas, but if any concerns arise, contact the Poisons Centre for advice on 131126.

Sixpence Christmas pudding
One of the many Christmas traditions is the discovery of a coin in your Christmas pudding to bring good luck, health, wealth and happiness to the recipient. The traditional use of a sixpence coin does not contain copper, however use of a copper containing coin can react with the the acids in the fruit pudding causing green discolouration which will ruin the dessert. Another major concern with this dessert is choking on or swallowing the coin, which can cause other health concerns. It is best to warn everyone eating the dessert than coins may be in their piece, and to avoid giving any to children. If necessary contact the Poisons Centre for advice on 131126.

Pool chemicals
With a warm Christmas day forecast backyard pools are likely to be in full use putting pool maintenance high on the to-do list. 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 to follow this summer 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 directly 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
Science chemistry sets can be an exciting holiday experiment for a child but certain ingredients can pose poisoning concerns when ingested or handled incorrectly. Some tips 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.

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