Press Release

American Association of Poison Control Centers Advises Public on Poison Hazards this Holiday Season

December 10, 2015 | Download PDF

ALEXANDRIA, VA – As much of the country experiences colder weather and families gather to celebrate the winter holidays, the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) urges the public to take precautions to help prevent poison exposures that occur more frequently around this time each year.

“While winter can be a wonderful time of year, the season also brings some special poison hazards,” said Stephen T. Kaminski, JD, AAPCC CEO and Executive Director. “However, the good news is that there are a few easy steps you can take to help keep you and your loved ones poison-free.”

The experts at the nation’s 55 poison centers are especially concerned about increased carbon monoxide exposures during the colder months. In 2014, poison centers were consulted for almost 14,000 carbon monoxide exposures, the majority of which occurred during the winter season. Also referred to as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is an odorless and colorless gas, which is released through defective generators, gas furnaces and heaters, gasoline-powered vehicles and equipment, and other fuel-burning appliances. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year hundreds of Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning, more than 20,000 visit the emergency room, and more than 4,000 are hospitalized.

The most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. If enough carbon monoxide is inhaled, it can cause unconsciousness, impaired coordination, and even death. “During this time of year, signs of carbon monoxide poisoning can be easily mistaken for symptoms of the flu or common cold, which why it’s vital to have your heating systems and fuel burning appliances inspected regularly by professionals to ensure proper ventilation,” said Dr. Christine Stork, PharmD, DABAT, FAACT, and Clinical Director of the Upstate New York Poison Center. Additionally, installing and regularly replacing battery-operated carbon monoxide detectors on every level of your home can help to determine if there is a leak.

During the excitement of holiday celebrations, alcohol safety is also an important consideration. Last year, poison centers managed approximately 11,000 cases of alcohol exposure in children under six. Even a small amount of ingested alcohol can cause severely low blood sugar and distress to a child’s central nervous system. “Children are naturally curious and mimic adult behaviors, so adults should take special care to keep wine, beer, liquor and other alcoholic beverages up and away from children. When it comes to alcohol, children are not small adults. Alcohol affects children differently than it does

adults, and swallowing even a little can be very toxic to a child,” said Dr. Willian Banner, Jr., MD, PhD, FAAP, FACMT, FAACT, and Medical Director of the Oklahoma Center for Poison & Drug Information, and current AAPCC President Elect. Alcohol found in mouthwash, hand sanitizers, and other personal care products can also cause alcohol poisoning, so it is important to keep these products up and away from children as well.

Lastly, toy and battery safety remains a serious concern for poison center experts during the winter holidays. In 2014, poison centers were consulted for approximately 94,000 cases of foreign body and/or button battery ingestion, roughly 6,500 of which involved toys and ornaments. Also, antique toys and toys that have been made in some foreign countries pose a higher risk for lead exposure. Therefore, parents and caregivers are encouraged to inspect carefully these types of toys for chipping or worn paint before allowing children to play with them, and reviewing toy recall notices before purchasing new toys.

In addition to lead exposures, foreign bodies are consistently one of the more common children’s substance exposures managed by poison centers each year. Button batteries, which can be found in watches, toys, games, flashing jewelry, singing greeting cards, and remote control devices, can be especially dangerous when swallowed by children. These batteries can become stuck in the esophagus, causing severe tissue damage and even death. Button batteries may also cause injury when they are placed in the nose or ears. “It is imperative that parents keep items containing button batteries securely fastened or out of the reach of children,” said Dr. Banner. “Generally, the best way to be prepared for poisoning emergencies this holiday season is to program the Poison Help line, 1-800-222-1222, into your mobile telephone, and post it in a visible place in your home. The experts at poison centers provide free and confidential information and treatment advice 24 hours per day, seven days a week, year-round, including holidays.”

If you have any questions, or if you or someone you know suspects poisoning or has been exposed to a potentially harmful substance, call the Poison Help line immediately at 1(800) 222-1222. AAPCC has also published a new Winter Poison Prevention webpage at http://www.aapcc.org/prevention/winter-poison-safety/. For more information on the poison center data referenced in this press release, please visit http://www.aapcc.org/data-system/.

For more information, the media may contact Angela Gonzales, AAPCC Associate Manager, Communications and Outreach, at 703-894-1865 or gonzales@aapcc.org.

AAPCC supports the nation’s 55 poison center members in their efforts to treat and prevent drug, consumer product, animal, environmental and food poisoning. Members staff the Poison Help hotline at 1-800-222-1222 that provides free, confidential, expert medical advice 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year from toxicology specialists, including nurses, pharmacists, physicians and poison information providers. In addition, AAPCC maintains the only poison information and surveillance database in the United States, providing real-time monitoring of unusual poisoning patterns, chemical exposures and other emerging public health hazards. AAPCC partners with federal agencies such as HRSA, CDC, FDA and EPA, as well as private industry.

To learn more, visit www.aapcc.org, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter (@AAPCC).

For More Information

  • Edward V. Walrod

    • Associate Manager for Media and Public Relations
    • Email: media at aapcc dot org
    • 703-894-1863

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