Winter Safety Tips

The holiday season is usually a time of joy, but it also brings the potential for poisonings and other safety hazards. The following tips include information about frequent holiday safety hazards and ways to ensure that families have a safe holiday season.


Serious incidents probably do not occur due to ingestion of parts of the domestic varieties of poinsettia (gastrointestinal and local irritation are occasionally reported). It is possible for children who play with the leaves of this plant and then rub their eyes to get redness and local irritation.  Claims that poinsettia can cause "fatal convulsions,” severe gastrointestinal symptoms, or that it is completely harmless, are not supported by scientific evidence.  


Certain varieties of mistletoe contain substances that, in large quantities, can affect the nervous system, blood pressure and the heart. Berries have the greatest risk for causing symptoms of poisoning, although other parts of the plant also contain toxins. However, in the amounts (one or two) usually ingested by small children, there is no documented cause for alarm or need for treatment. Contact the Drug and Poison Information Center (DPIC)  if ingestion occurs.


There are at least 400 different types of holly. The berries of a few types of holly plants are poisonous. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and a slowing down of breathing and heart rate can occur after eating holly berries.  Although the exact nature of the toxic chemicals in holly is not yet known, it is claimed that deaths have occurred in children who have eaten as few as 12 berries. Children might also eat the leaves of holly plants. These could also contain potentially toxic chemicals. Call DPIC if ingestion occurs.  

Jerusalem Cherry 

Although this plant is thought to contain solanine, a substance found in several plants with known toxic potential, reports of toxicity are rare. Reported signs and symptoms of solanine toxicity include dilated pupils, salivation, nausea, vomiting, headache, bloating, diarrhea, respiratory depression, central nervous system depression, confusion, irregular heartbeat, coma and death. It is unclear how many cherries would have to be eaten to produce any of these symptoms. Call DPIC if ingestion occurs.


Very little is known about how poisonous this plant is to humans. The safest thing to do is call DPIC if ingestion occurs.

Fireplaces and Heaters 

Before starting a fire in a fireplace, remove all decorations (including stockings) and be sure the flue is open. Do not burn wrapping paper in the fireplace − it can burn very fast and throw off sparks. Always place a screen in front of the fireplace.

When plugging in electric heaters, make sure the outlet was designed to handle the load. When using kerosene heaters, make sure you use the correct fuel − using the wrong fuel can cause a fire or even an explosion.  Fireplaces and woodstoves should be checked professionally once a year.  Keep children away from heat-producing devices to prevent burns. 


When buying an artificial tree, look for a “Fire Resistant” label. When buying a live tree, check for freshness − make sure the needles are soft and don’t fall off.  Live trees need plenty of water so check your tree’s water level daily. Dry trees can burn in seconds! Do not block your home’s exit with the tree. Remove live trees from your home as soon as possible. Many tree fires occur on or after New Year’s Day. 

Lights: Indoor and Outdoor  

Check each set of lights for damaged sockets or wires and throw away any bad strands. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on the maximum number of light sets that can be connected together. Turn off all lights when you go to bed or leave the house. Use only light sets and extension cords marked “for outdoor use” outside your home. 


Use only non-combustible or flame-resistant materials to trim a tree. Never use lighted candles on or near a tree or other evergreens. Keep children and pets in mind when placing decorations on a tree. Make sure easy-to-break ornaments are out of reach.  

Christmas Tree Ornaments 

Christmas tree ornaments made of thin metal, plastic, wood, glass, etc., are of concern for their potential to cut or block the airway if eaten. Dry paint or coloring on these objects should not pose a hazard.  


“Think Big” when choosing toys for small children − small parts could be a choking hazard. Make sure gifts are appropriate for the child’s age. “Think Easy” when choosing a gift for someone who may have arthritis or some other physical challenge. Consider giving new parents and new homeowners the gift of safety − smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers make great gifts!

Many people think that other products used during the holiday season cause poisoning.  In most cases, angel hair, candles, Christmas cactus, Christmas trees and evergreens, garland, tinsel, icicles, and snow spray or flock do not cause side effects or poisoning, but check labels if ingestion occurs.


Ethyl alcohol is a common and potentially toxic ingredient in holiday beverages. It, or denatured alcohol, is also found in gifts such as perfumes and colognes. Alcohol poisoning is often due to families leaving unfinished drinks lying around after holiday parties where children might find them. Because of their small size, children are more likely to get alcohol poisoning than are adults. Make sure all alcohol is put away before going to bed at night.

Essential Oils and Flavors 

Some ingredients, such as salicylates in oil of wintergreen, menthol, camphor, eucalyptol, and other oils and flavorings can be poisonous. Other products may have high alcohol content or the risk to cause severe problems if eaten.  Call DPIC is ingestion occurs.

Dry Ice 

Dry ice is used in many ways throughout the holiday season.  Avoid skin contact with solid pieces of dry ice or with pieces that might be eaten. Dry ice is made up of carbon dioxide. Skin contact can cause tissue damage, and burns to the mouth can occur if eaten.  Flush the skin with lukewarm water if direct exposure occurs, and give lukewarm water to drink if a solid piece is swallowed. Contact DPIC.

Disc (Button) Batteries 

These can be found in such common gift items as toys, cameras, watches and calculators. Children or adults swallowing a disc battery should be evaluated, which may include referral to an emergency department for X-ray location of the object. The type of care given depends on the findings. Problems usually occur only if the battery becomes lodged or ruptures. Contact DPIC if ingestion occurs.

  • Check the batteries in your smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector monthly! Change the batteries as instructed by the manufacturer.
  • Install smoke detectors on each level of your home, especially near sleeping areas.
  • Develop a fire escape plan and practice the plan with your family!

For additional information on any of the above topics, contact the Drug and Poison Information Center in your area by dialing 1-800-222-1222. This number also provides TTY capability.

Last Updated 04/2015