10 tips for having a safe holiday season from your friends at UTHSC

San Antonio (Nov. 24, 2003) – Thanksgiving Day is almost here and Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas and New Year’s are just around the corner. Now is the time to review some safety concerns for children, pets and even all of us “more responsible” adults. Here are 10 precautions for staying safe this holiday season, according to experts from The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSC).

1. Don’t drink and drive. Michelle Price, director of UTHSC’s South Texas Injury Prevention and Research Center, notes that a new survey of more than 600 San Antonio residents found that 20 percent admitted they had driven while impaired by alcohol. Establish who will be the designated driver or take a taxi if you plan to drink at holiday parties, Price says.

2. Don’t worry needlessly about children eating your poinsettia plants. Dr. Miguel Fernández, medical director of the South Texas Poison Center at the UTHSC, says while poinsettias may cause a poison oak-like skin irritation and minor mouth or stomach upset, they are considered non-poisonous. If you have any questions or concerns about these plants or others, you might prevent an unnecessary visit to the emergency center by first calling the Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222. The call is free and available 24 hours a day, including holidays.

3. Keep medicines out of the reach of children since they may easily be confused with holiday candies. Common over-the-counter cold remedies may look like M&M’s when left out. Dr. Fernández says the Poison Center receives dozens of calls each month for this problem.

4. Toddlers may swallow the needles on your natural holiday tree. Dr. Juan Parra, pediatrician at the Health Science Center, says the needles can cause a severe reaction in a toddler’s airway. Pine needle aspiration won’t completely obstruct the airway, but it will be uncomfortable and may require removal by a scope used by a pulmonologist, Dr. Parra says. Be sure to get the freshest tree possible to minimize needle shedding.

5. Everything on the tree is open game for a toddler to put into his mouth. If a little one can reach it, he may try to eat it. In addition to needles, this includes the lights, icicles, ornaments and strings of popcorn. Also be vigilant when you leave out bowls of peanuts, candies and other holiday snack foods, even if they seem to be out of toddlers’ reach.

6. Small parts on toys or nativity sets may become lodged in the throat. Vicky Smith, department of emergency medical technology, says your response will depend on your child’s size. If the child is small enough to rest on your forearm (1 year old or younger), Smith recommends holding him upside down, giving five pushes to the back between the shoulder blades and five chest thrusts in the middle of the sternum. If the child is older, sit him on your lap and do five abdominal thrusts. “The important thing to stress is that if the child is coughing, leave him alone, because this means the child is breathing,” Smith said. “Doing the thrusts prematurely can cause the object to lodge deeper.”

7. Get enough sleep. Disruptions in one’s sleep at the holidays can have adverse effects on health and safety, says Dr. Paul Ingmundson, clinical professor of psychiatry. People experiencing sleep deprivation due to too many holiday social commitments may be vulnerable to the effects of sleep loss on increasing the risk for fatigue-related accidents, especially on those long holiday drives to visit friends and relatives.

8. Cook your turkey thoroughly. Take out the stuffing and refrigerate it promptly after serving to guard against Salmonella poisoning. Dr. Fernández says the signs of Salmonella poisoning include flu-like symptoms with nausea, crampy upset stomach and diarrhea. Symptoms can develop six to 48 hours after exposure and last up to a week. If this occurs, contact your primary care physician.

9. Keep dogs away from chocolate. Dr. Robert H. Wolf, director of laboratory animal resources at the UTHSC, says chocolate contains theobromine, a caffeine-like substance that dogs are unable to metabolize (break down). This stimulant can lead to excitement, seizures, coma and death, much like the drug known as “speed.” White chocolate contains very little theobromine, while darker, less sweetened chocolate (like baking chocolate) is much more potent and dangerous to a dog. “The smaller the dog and the darker the chocolate, the more concentrated and dangerous a given amount will be,” Dr. Wolf said.

10. Holiday stress can cause feelings of being overwhelmed, sad or depressed. Talk to someone about it, recommends Dr. Joseph Kobos, department of psychiatry. Limit your activities if you feel overwhelmed. While family connections are a source of sustenance and support for many people, there are occasions when family gatherings stimulate tension and conflict. Set limits for yourself.

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