HSE issues advice to parents and guardians ahead of Christmas
Keeping batteries out of reach and checking toys for safety hazards are some of the ways parents, relatives and child-minders can avoid common injuries this Christmas.
There are numerous types of batteries in homes at this time of year and they can result in serious harm if children chew on them or swallow them. Button batteries are small and can be found in musical cards and books, novelty decorations like singing Santas or Christmas ornaments that light up, flameless candles and a wide range of small electronic devices. Children can choke on them and, if swallowed, can seriously burn their insides.
Children are also at risk from unsafe toys. Parents and guardians are being asked to look out for the CE safety mark and to consider choking and strangulation hazards.
Dr Abigail Collins, National Clinical Lead in the HSE’s Child Health Public Health Programme and a public health consultant, said: “Christmas is nearly upon us and children across the country are counting down the days. There are things parents, family members and Santa Claus can do to help make this special time of year a safe one.
“Look for the CE safety mark and check warnings on toys. Make sure children are playing with toys that are right for their age and developmental stage. Watch out for small detachable parts they can choke on, especially for young children who put things in their mouths. Keep items with strings out of reach – they are a strangulation risk. The mychild.ie section of the HSE website has an extensive child safety section to help parents and carers to reduce risks to children all year round.”
Dr Edel Duggan, Director of the National Poisons Information Centre at Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital, said: “Everyday household items unfortunately can poison children. Parents and guardians should watch out for button and cylindrical batteries in toys, decorations and gadgets. Serious injury can occur if a child swallows a battery or puts a leaking one in their mouth.
“To help prevent injury, keep all spare and used batteries out of children’s sight and reach, and safely recycle used batteries. Keep products with batteries well out of reach if the battery compartment isn’t secured with a screw.”
Parents, relatives and Santa himself can all help keep children safe by making sure their toys:
- are right for the child’s age and developmental stage
- are in good condition – broken toys can be dangerous
- have the CE quality mark – this shows they have met the required safety standard
- are not a choking risk for children aged under 3 – watch out for small objects, particularly round-shaped, that could block your child’s airway. For example, marbles, beads, coins, marker caps and bottle tops
- don’t have parts that are sharp or detach and break easily – any part that comes loose should be too large for a child to swallow
- don’t have magnets – swallowing magnets can cause serious injury
- don’t have strings as they are a strangulation risk
- are stored out of the way when not being used so they don't cause trips or falls
- are stored somewhere a child doesn’t need to climb to reach
According to the National Poisons Information Centre, common poison risks to children at this time of year include:
- batteries and button batteries – children may chew on them and/or swallow them which can result in serious harm
- firelighters and matches – ingestion of even small amounts can potentially cause symptoms including aspiration into the lungs if vomiting occurs
- seasonal plants including poinsettia, holly, ivy and mistletoe, which are potentially poisonous
- household products, cosmetics and medicines – make sure visitors keep theirs out of children’s reach
- gift items and household products such as essential oils and reed diffusers – these can be highly toxic if ingested, even in small amounts. They can cause also harm to the skin and eye if exposure occurs
- popular gifts like perfume, aftershave and cologne – they may contain very high concentrations of alcohol and can be toxic to children if swallowed
- alcohol leftover in glasses and cans – alcohol intoxication can occur even with small volumes
- car de-icers – they can contain ethylene glycol, methanol, isopropanol, propylene glycol which are all potentially toxic
Call the Poisons Information Line on 01 809 2166 if you think your child has been exposed to poison. The service is available from 8am to 10pm every day, including Christmas Day. It gives urgent tailored advice to members of the public on whether medical treatment is needed following accidental poisoning. Outside of these hours, contact your GP or hospital. In an emergency, call 999 or 112.
If you think your child may have swallowed a button battery, take them immediately to your nearest hospital emergency department.
You can give a child over 1 year of age two teaspoons of honey if they have swallowed a button battery. This can protect the oesophagus from injury before the battery is removed in hospital. Only do this if they are able to swallow. Do not delay bringing them to hospital.
For further information on child safety, visit mychild.ie.
For further information on poisoning prevention, visit www.poisons.ie.
Last updated on: 15 / 12 / 2022