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home : columns : ask the doctors February 24, 2020

12/23/2019 10:16:00 AM
'Tis the season to be safe

Dear Doctor: It's our turn to host our extended family for the holidays. That means my husband and I will have adults, toddlers, teens, babies and a few senior citizens here at the house for at least four days. What should we do to keep everyone safe?

Dear Reader: With the prospect of a full house during an often-hectic time of year, we think it's wise that you and your husband are preparing not only for the festivities, but for the possibility of mishaps. And, really, whether the holiday season entails hosting multitudes or a small and quiet celebration, some simple precautions can make this time of year safer for everyone.

Let's start with holiday decor, which can be particularly enticing to children. Tinsel is a potential choking hazard, as are ornament hooks. So are the ornaments themselves, if they're small enough. If -- or more likely, when -- an ornament breaks, be sure to collect all of the pieces, and then thoroughly vacuum the area to pick up any stray fragments. If you've gone old-school and decorated the tree with bubble lights, be aware that the fluid they contain is toxic.

Some of the plants we bring into the house this time of year can pose dangers. The berries on holly and bittersweet and the leaves on mistletoe are known to be toxic. So are amaryllis and daffodils. Although poinsettia is often characterized as poisonous, that's incorrect. However, certain compounds in the plant can cause skin irritation, or, if ingested, can sometimes result in nausea or vomiting.

Food and kitchen safety are particularly important during a holiday season that revolves around cooking, baking and eating. The number of kitchen fires spikes dramatically during this time of year, so make sure the various chefs never leave their creations unattended. It's also important to keep the area around open flames clear of papers and debris. Have a working fire extinguisher ready, and make sure everyone knows how to use it.

Be vigilant about handling raw meat hygienically, which includes keeping hands and utensils clean. With cooked food, be sure it's back in the fridge no more than two hours after serving. And be aware of any serious food allergies among your houseguests.

A few final thoughts: Have your first-aid kit stocked and ready to go. Remind houseguests to keep all medications safely out of sight and beyond reach. Unplug all lights at night and when you leave the house. Be aware of the various batteries that power toys, games and electronics use, as some of them are quite small. Be prepared and know the symptoms of severe food poisoning, which can include persistent vomiting or diarrhea, bloody stools, dehydration, dizziness and fever of over 102 degrees Fahrenheit. If someone falls seriously ill, it's better to call 911 than to drive them for medical help. EMTs can initiate life-saving procedures upon arrival. And finally, find and post the phone number of your local poison control center. You can also get help from the American Association of Poison Control Centers at 1-800-222-1222, or

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