Keeping your children safe during the holidays

1. Don’t worry needlessly about children eating your poinsettia plants. Miguel Fernández, M.D., medical director of the South Texas Poison Center at the UT Health Science Center, 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.

2. 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.

3. Toddlers may swallow the needles on your natural holiday tree. Victor German, M.D., Ph.D., pediatrician at the Health Science Center, says the needles can cause a severe reaction in a toddler’s airway. Pine needles may be aspirated into the airway directly or cause severe swelling leading to the airway being obstructed. An embedded needle will be uncomfortable and may require removal by a scope used by a pulmonologist, Dr. German says.

4. 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, Dr. German says.

5. Small parts on toys or nativity sets may become lodged in the throat. Vicky Smith, from the Health Science Center Department of Emergency Health Sciences, 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.”

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is the leading research institution in South Texas and one of the major health sciences universities in the world. With an operating budget of $668 million, the Health Science Center is the chief catalyst for the $15.3 billion biosciences and health care sector in San Antonio’s economy. The Health Science Center has had an estimated $35 billion impact on the region since inception and has expanded to six campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. More than 23,000 graduates (physicians, dentists, nurses, scientists and other health professionals) serve in their fields, including many in Texas. Health Science Center faculty are international leaders in cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, aging, stroke prevention, kidney disease, orthopaedics, research imaging, transplant surgery, psychiatry and clinical neurosciences, pain management, genetics, nursing, dentistry and many other fields. For more information, visit

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