Keep the holidays from being ho-ho-hazardous to kids

ornamentsLois Lee, MD, MPH works in Children’s Emergency Department Injury Prevention Program

Many parents know that kids like to put things in their mouth, nose and ears—even if they know those things don’t belong there. Holiday decorations are no exception. Every year in the Emergency Department (ED), we see children who get injuries from holiday decorations—usually from trying to eat them. But children can sustain other injuries as well—and usually in ways that an adult would never think about.

My colleagues and I have just published a study in the journal Pediatric Emergency Care about holiday-ornament related injuries in children. We saw an average of five children a year who came to the ED for injuries from a holiday ornament. Most of the injuries were from glass ornaments, but some were related to the light bulb part of the decoration. Almost half of the children came to the ED because they tried to eat the ornament. Twelve of these children had bleeding from their mouth or gastrointestinal tract (stomach and intestines). Others had cuts on their skin by glass in the ornament or light bulb. Two children suffered minor electrocution when they put the ornament in the electrical socket. Another child placed part of an ornament fragment in his ear canal.

The majority of these children had an X-ray as part of their evaluation. Two children had to go to the operating room (OR) for further exploration of the ornament foreign bodies in the mouth or airway. Six children were admitted to the hospital for observation.

In addition to holiday ornament injuries, there are other types of injuries that we see XMAS stockingsaround the holidays. The Christmas tree can fall on children if they pull on an ornament and the tree is not well secured. Stocking holders, which can be placed on a mantle, are very popular, but can cause head injury if the child pulls on the stocking and pulls the holder (which is often heavy) onto their heads. Candles can cause burns to children or fires in the home if not well monitored.

So here are a few tips to keep your children safe this holiday season:

  • Consider placing ornaments on higher branches of the Christmas tree to keep them out of reach of curious toddlers.
  • Cover electrical outlets so children can not put an ornament or wire in them.
  • Candles should only be lit in rooms where people are present.
  • Take care in using stocking holders if the stockings hang low enough for children to reach.
  • Take care in placing garlands that hang from windows or other surfaces, as they can be a strangulation hazard if a small child gets caught in them.
  • Make sure the Christmas tree has a secure base to prevent it from falling on a child.

And as always, close supervision of young children is the best way to keep them safe this holiday season—and all year round.

Read this LA Times article highlighting Children’s research on the perils posed by holiday ornaments.