Holiday Hazards

Poison exposure & holiday hazards

Holiday safety tips

Home for the holidays? Holiday activities, decorations, toys, plants and foods may lead to accidental harmful ingestions or choking. Learn how to celebrate the holidays safely and prevent poison exposure this winter.


If you use alcohol, make sure these products are locked out of sight and reach of children. Alcohol poisoning is a serious emergency. Symptoms include confusion, disorientation, unresponsiveness, vomiting, difficult or very slow breathing, pale or bluish skin and seizures. If you suspect alcohol poisoning, call 911 immediately.

Angel Hair

Angel hair is finely spun glass that can be irritating to the skin, eyes, and throat, if swallowed. While decorating, wear gloves to avoid eye and skin irritation.

Bubble lights

Bubble lights contain a small amount of methylene chloride which is also found in paint removers. Nibbling on an intact light or one "opened" light may cause mild skin or mouth irritation.

Button batteries

Holiday gifts can have flat, coin-shaped batteries. If swallowed, these can cause serious injuries to the esophagus (throat region) by causing obstruction, serious burns, and permanent damage. Keep all batteries away from babies, children, and pets.


Candles consist of wax and synthetic materials, which are non-toxic. Small amounts of non-poisonous colors and scents are added. However, small chunks can be a choking hazard to small children. Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other plants or trees. Always use non-flammable holders, and place candles where they will not fall.

Carbon monoxide

​Colder weather means possible exposure to carbon monoxide from furnaces and fireplaces as families gather indoors. Make sure chimney flues are fully open before using the fireplace. Keep flammables away from floor furnaces. Keep your Christmas tree fresh with water, and keep all sources of flame away from the tree. Never heat a home with a gas stovetop or gas oven, and never use charcoal or kerosene heaters indoors. Keep outdoor generators away from windows. A clue to carbon monoxide poisoning is the occurrence of headaches in several people simultaneously. Put fresh batteries in all your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

Chocolate and pets

Be mindful of pets. Dogs are especially prone to poisoning because they eat almost anything. Keep chocolate out of the reach of dogs; it can cause vomiting diarrhea, tremors, or even a coma.

Christmas tree ornaments

Ornaments can be made of glass, thin metal, Styrofoam, or wood. If a child swallows a piece of an ornament, it could cause choking and/or blockage in the intestines. Antique or foreign-made ornaments may be decorated with lead-based paint; however, lead toxicity is unlikely from a small, one-time occurrence.

Christmas tree preservatives

Commercial Christmas tree preservatives usually contain a concentrated sugar solution and are considered non-toxic. However, homemade solutions containing aspirin or bleach can be potentially harmful if a large amount is swallowed.

Fireplace color crystals

Fireplace color crystals come in packets containing small crystals that change the color of a flame. These crystals contain chemicals to produce vivid colors when burned. These color crystals are attractive to children and can look like candy. They contain powders of heavy metal salts such as copper, selenium, arsenic, and antimony. If swallowed, they can be very irritating to the mouth and stomach. They can also cause burns in the mouth and throat. If large amounts are swallowed, it may result in heavy metal poisoning.

Food poisoning

​Never put non-food items, like cleaning products, in food containers. Thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables under running water only. Never wash fruits and vegetables with cleaning products like disinfectants or sanitizers. Take steps to prevent food poisoning. Before food preparation, clean all counters and cutting boards with hot water and soap, and wash your hands. Prepare raw meat on very clean surfaces, cook food thoroughly, and refrigerate leftovers immediately. Make sure that nothing is left out for more than 2 hours.

​Gift wrap/lead

Most wrapping paper and ribbons are non-toxic, but foil and colored gift wrap may contain lead. Don’t let babies or pets chew on foil wrapping paper. Do not throw this paper into the fireplace either. Lead can still be found in new and used children’s products, like toys, backpacks, lunch boxes, and jewelry. Find out about product recalls and tested products at Healthy Stuff.

Icicles or tinsel

Icicles and tinsel are types of decorative materials that mimic the effect of ice. Tinsel consists of thin strips of sparkling material attached to a thread. These may cause choking or obstruction, especially in cats or small dogs. Since they may contain lead and tin, they may be toxic with repeated ingestion.


Marijuana (cannabis)

If you use marijuana (cannabis) products, make sure they are locked out of sight and reach of children. Practice caution when using or serving cannabis-containing edible items such as cookies, candies, pastries, or beverages. These items should not be prepared or served where children are present to minimize the risk of accidental exposure for youngsters and teens. Keep all cannabis products in their original packaging, and store them in locked cabinets away from children and teens.


​Holiday visitors might leave their medication on the nightstand, making it easily accessible to children. Keep all medicines locked up, out of sight, and reach of children. Also, visitors' personal items, such as purses or bags, may contain medication or other potentially dangerous items. Keep all personal items out of reach and sight of children as well.

​Snow scene globes

Snow scenes are plastic globes filled with water or glycerin. When shaken, snow appears to fall upon a Christmas scene. The "snow" is calcium carbonate, which is non-toxic. Sometimes the water may be contaminated with bacteria and food poisoning may result. The symptoms of food poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps.

Snow sprays

Many snow sprays contain acetone or methylene chloride. This solvent can be harmful when inhaled. Briefly inhaling the spray in a small, poorly ventilated room may result in nausea, lightheadedness, and headache. Longer or more concentrated exposures can be more serious. Carefully follow container directions. Be sure to have the room well ventilated when you spray. Once dry, the snow particles are non-toxic.

Tobacco and liquid nicotine

If you use tobacco products, make sure they are locked out of sight and reach of children. Tiny amounts of liquid nicotine from e-cigarettes (vape) can be highly toxic for young children if they touch or drink it. Containers for e-liquids (the liquid used in vape products) can seem tempting to children of all ages for many reasons. Always store e-cigarettes and/or e-liquids out of reach and sight of children and pets.

If you or someone you know may have been exposed to poison or have any poison-related questions, call the California Poison Hotline immediately at 1-800-222-1222.

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