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Holiday Hit List: Pretty and Poisonous

December 18, 1990|KATHLEEN DOHENY

Every year at holiday time, the issue of the pretty, but poisonous poinsettia plant arises.

But poinsettias--which can cause skin inflammation if touched and severe stomach pains if eaten in large amounts--aren't the only plants that should be kept out of reach of children, says Christopher Lomax, a pharmacist and director of pharmacy at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.

Many parents are unaware that other holiday plants are toxic, says Lomax. On the hit list: mistletoe and holly.

The entire mistletoe plant is toxic, Lomax says, and when ingested can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, slowed heartbeat, even convulsions and hallucinations.

The holly leaf and berry, when ingested, can cause severe upset stomach, drowsiness and fatigue. Ingesting 20 or 30 berries can cause death.

Plants are not the only holiday poisons. Christmas tree flocking spray, if used in an unventilated area, can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. The dried flocking, though, is nontoxic if eaten, Lomax says.

There are other items parents should keep an eye on:

* The color crystals shaken into fireplaces contain toxic metallic salts.

* Antique Christmas decorations may contain lead-based paint.

* Angel hair has spun glass that can harm eyes or skin. If swallowed, it can irritate the stomach lining.

* Tinsel manufactured before 1972 can contain lead flakes and lead to gastrointestinal obstruction if ingested. ("I threw that in," Lomax says, "because my mother is a tinsel-saver, and I suspect others are, too.")

* Alcohol from liquor and perfumes also can be dangerous around small children. "A fatal oral dose of either one in small children can be as little as two tablespoons," Lomax says.

What to do? "Buy a couple of bottles of syrup of ipecac before the holidays," Lomax advises. "If your kid ingests plants, use the syrup to induce vomiting." For other poisonings or in doubt, call your doctor or the Los Angeles County Medical Assn. Poison Information Center.

Telephone numbers vary by location:

* (213) 484-5151; in area codes 818 and 805, call (800) 777-6476; in area code 714, call (800) 544-4404; in 619, call (800) 876-4766.

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