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Pediatricians Offer Tips to Avoid Holiday Hazards

SATURDAY, Dec. 17 (HealthDay News) -- From buying a Christmas tree to stringing up lights and wrapping gifts, there are a number of health and safety issues parents and guardians should consider during the holidays, according to child health experts.

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers the following tips to help keep children and the whole family safe:

Christmas trees

  • Make sure, if you select an artificial tree, that it is flame-resistant.
  • When selecting a live tree, find one that is fresh. Being green, having a sticky trunk and having needles that don't bend, fall off or break easily are signs that a tree is fresh and less likely to pose a fire hazard.
  • Trim a few inches off the bottom of the trunk to help it absorb more water and refill the tree stand with water regularly.
  • Trees should not be set up in high-traffic areas or near fireplaces, radiators or portable heaters.

Holiday lights

  • When hanging tree lights, always make sure that each bulb works and there are no frayed wires, broken sockets or loose connections.
  • To avoid electrocution, electric lights should never be used on a metallic tree.
  • When decorating with lights outside, check to make sure the lights have been certified for outdoor use.
  • Hooks and insulated staples should be used to hold lights in place -- not nails or tacks.
  • All lights should be plugged into circuits with ground fault circuit interrupters to avoid potential shocks.
  • Never leave lights on when you are not home because a short circuit could cause a fire.
  • When it's time to take lights down, don't pull or tug on them.


  • Only flame-resistant materials should be hung on a tree.
  • Choose only plastic or nonleaded tinsel or artificial icicles.
  • Open flames, such as lighted candles, should not be placed near a tree or in an area where children can touch them or knock them over.
  • Avoid decorations that are sharp or breakable -- especially if there are small children in the home.
  • Decorations with small parts or those that look like real candy or food should also not be used near small children, who could swallow or choke on them.
  • Wear gloves and follow directions carefully when using spun glass, known as "angel hair," or fake snow sprays.


  • All wrapping papers, bags, ribbons and bows should be removed from fireplace areas once gifts have been opened to avoid fire hazards.
  • Quickly dispose of plastic bags and long ribbons, which can pose suffocation hazards to small children.


  • Be sure to select age-appropriate toys to match the abilities, skills and interests of each child, and to avoid potential dangers such as choking on small parts or button batteries.
  • Give children under the age of 10 years battery-operated toys rather than those that must be plugged in to an electrical outlet.
  • Strings and ribbons should be removed from toys before they are given to young children to avoid strangulation, particularly cords that are more than 12 inches long.
  • Toys should be kept in a designated location to keep youngsters from gaining access to older kids' toys.


  • Keep hot liquids and foods away from the edges of tables and counters where they could be easily reached by young kids or knocked over.
  • Be sure young children do not have access to microwave ovens.
  • Fully cook meats and poultry, and thoroughly wash raw vegetables and fruits to avoid harmful bacteria.
  • Frequent hand washing and using separate utensils during food preparation will also help avoid bacterial infection.
  • Thaw raw meat in the refrigerator and put cooked foods away within two hours of preparation.


  • Clean up immediately after a holiday party so that children do not face potentially dangerous situations in the morning, such as leftover spoiled food or alcoholic beverages.
  • Remember that not all homes you visit will be child-proofed, so be aware of potential dangers, such as unlocked medicine or cleaning supply cabinets.
  • Keep a laminated list of important phone numbers, such as the police, fire department and pediatrician, that can be accessed in the event of an emergency. The Poison Help Line is 1-800-222-1222.
  • Traveling and holiday festivities can be stressful for children. Try to maintain children's sleep, nap and eating schedules to help them feel more comfortable.


  • Remove all greens and other decorations from fireplace area and be sure the flue is open before building a fire.
  • Keep "fire salts," which produce colored flames, away from children. They contain heavy metals that can cause intense stomach and intestinal irritation and vomiting if swallowed.
  • Do not burn wrapping paper in the fireplace.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides additional holiday health and safety tips .

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: American Academy of Pediatrics, news release, Nov. 29, 2011

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