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This article originally appeared in the Dec. 15, 2010, edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

‘Tis the season for family gatherings, parties, and holiday fun.  That means it’s also the season for looking after the little ones to be sure everyone enjoys a safe holiday season.

The holiday season may be the most wonderful time of the year, especially for kids. Unfortunately, for emergency room doctors it's also one of the busiest.

Mistletoe, Holly,  Jerusalem Cherry and other plants are commonly used as decorations during the holidays. Like many plants, these are considered potentially poisonous and should be kept out of the reach of children. Symptoms of plant poisoning can include rash, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. If you suspect that your child has eaten any part of a plant, immediately call  the Missouri Poison Center: (800) 222-1222.  The poison center is a statewide program of SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center, and serves both children and adults.

"Bubble lights" containing methylene chloride or alcohol can be poisonous if a child drinks the fluid. Snow sprays may be harmful if the aerosol propellants are used improperly.

Food poisoning is always a potential holiday hazard. Practice food safety by washing hands, utensils, dishes, and anything else that comes in contact with raw meat, including poultry and fish, and raw eggs before and after use. Don't contaminate a serving dish with raw meat. Store leftovers properly and heat them thoroughly before serving. Remember the golden rule of food poisoning: When in doubt, throw it out.

Alcohol poisoning is another common risk for children during the holiday season. Many parents host holiday parties where alcohol is served. Parents must take care to remove  partially empty cups and pour them out as soon as possible.  Kids imitate adults, and may drink the beverages they see adults drinking. Children become "drunk" much more quickly than adults, and they can develop a low blood sugar in response to alcohol, so even small amounts can be dangerous.

“Sometimes after a holiday party, the grown-ups go to bed in the wee hours not bothering  to clean up the mess. When the little ones wake early and wander throughout the house,  these colorful drinks that smell and taste sweet are very appealing and there’s a good chance they’re going to end up getting hurt,” says Peggy Kinamore, public outreach educator for the Missouri Poison Center.

Kinamore says the holidays are also a time of risk because of visiting friends and relatives to our homes.  There may be purses, luggage or bedside tables that have potentially dangerous things in easy reach of curious children.  There is a disruption from our normal routine.  Whether grandparents are visiting a house with kids, or children are enjoying the holidays at a relative’s house, it’s critical to be sure medications are put in a secure location where little hands can’t find them.

Learn how to protect your little ones from common holiday dangers, so you and your family can enjoy a season that's happy and healthy.

Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. If you have a question about your child’s health, go to the “Ask Dr. Bob” section of the Cardinal Glennon Web site at www.cardinalglennon.com.

12/15/2010