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Ontario Poison Centre

Winter and Holiday Hazards

As seasons change, so do the types of poisons that are commonly found in and around the home. Many of us look forward to the holiday season. The snow is falling, relatives and friends are visiting and gifts are being exchanged. The holiday season can be hectic, making it easy to lose sight of your child. Whether you are talking to a loved one on the phone or visiting with friends, it only takes seconds for a child to get their hands on something dangerous.

In the cold weather we tend to use products that are designed not to freeze at cold temperatures. Antifreeze and windshield washer fluid are refilled more frequently in the colder temperatures and are very poisonous. Small children that are curious may try to taste these products because the bright colours make it look like a tasty drink. Children may drink large amounts because these products can taste sweet.

How to Prevent Winter and Holiday Poisonings

  • Store antifreeze and windshield washer fluid in the trunk of your car.
  • Keep ice-melting products locked and out of reach of your child.
  • When family comes to visit, make sure they have a safe place to store their medicines. Lock them in a cupboard or locked box.
  • Toys meant for older children may have small parts that a young child could choke on. Keep these toys away from young children.

Holiday Plants

  • The poinsettia plant is one of the most common plants used to decorate homes over the holidays. It has a bad reputation for being highly toxic but is really more of a choking hazard in humans.

     The poinsettia plant

  • Holly and mistletoe berries can cause toxic symptoms that may require medical attention if eaten. It is best to keep those plants out of reach of young children.

Holiday Hazards

During the holiday season, many families decorate their homes. Some of these decorations may pose harm to your children. Here are some tips to keep in mind over the holiday season:

  • Supervise young children at all times. The holiday season is a common time for childhood poisonings to happen because the normal daily routine is disrupted.
  • Keep toys meant for older children away from young ones as they can choke on the small parts easily.
  • Button batteries are found in many toys, games, remote control devices, and many other items. If swallowed, they can get stuck in the esophagus and cause severe burns. Seek medical attention in your nearest ED if a button battery has been swallowed. 
  • Snow sprays make pretty window decorations and are not poisonous once dry. For some people, however, these sprays may cause irritation to the airway.
  • Bubbling Christmas tree lights may contain poisonous chemicals.
  • Old, heirloom ornaments may contain lead paint. Keep them away from young children.
  • Some gifts found under the tree, including perfume and drinking alcohol may be very dangerous if young children drink them.

Carbon Monoxide

As the weather grows colder, we begin using various devices to warm our homes including furnaces, fireplaces and stoves. These devices, if not working properly, may emit a highly toxic gas known as carbon monoxide.

Poison Prevention Tips:

  • Have your heating system checked every year by a qualified inspector before turning the furnace on in the fall.
  • Make sure your chimney is checked each year and cleared of any blockages such as branches or birds’ nests.
  • Use fuel-burning heaters only in well ventilated areas, and only as directed.
  • Never leave a motorized vehicle running in the garage.
  • All homes should have a carbon monoxide detector installed. If it alarms, leave the house immediately and call 911. If anyone in the home has symptoms such as headache or dizziness they should go to the nearest Emergency Department.

Cold & Flu

During cold and flu season, we see increased use of cough/cold medicines and hand sanitizers.

Poison Prevention Tips:

  • Check the active ingredients section on the DRUG FACTS section of the medicine label. Do not used two medicines at the same time that contain the same or similar ingredients.
  • Follow dosing instructions and never take more medicine than directed.
  • Do not give medicine to a child that is intended for adult use.
  • Never use cough/cold medicines to make a child sleepy.
  • If you have young children in your home, keep medicine and hand sanitizers locked up when not in use.


Learn more about poisonous and non-poisonous plants in our Plants Section.


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