The season of joy is also a time of more trips to the emergency room.
As the holidays approach, parents should know that the family celebrations ahead come with several health and safety hazards for children.
“We do see more ER visits around the holidays,” said Dr. Kelly Levasseur, director of pediatric emergency medicine for Beaumont Children’s Hospital.
In addition to the regular slew of viruses that circulate this time of year, the specialized pediatric emergency units at the Beaumont hospitals in Royal Oak and Troy usually see a spike in visits related to allergic reactions, choking, dog bites and more. Here are some of the top issues parents should have on their radar.
1. Watch for food allergies
Big holiday dinners can offer an opportunity for your child to try new foods, but beware of food allergies. If your child has allergies, ask the host in advance about what’s on the menu – including treats like nuts that might be out for snacking.
“For the families that have children with known allergies, it’s really important to bring their EpiPen with them when they travel,” Levasseur said.
A food allergy could also be noticed for the first time after a holiday meal. Signs of an allergic reaction include lip swelling, trouble breathing, a funny feeling in the throat, rash or vomiting.
“If they think the child is having a severe allergic reaction, then they need to get them to the nearest emergency room,” she said.
Choking is another concern during holiday get-togethers, so make sure hosts don’t have hard candies within reach of little ones.
“A quick and easy way to tell if something can be a choking hazard for a younger child is to take the inside cardboard tube of a toilet paper roll. If the food can fit in that tube, then it’s a choking hazard,” Levasseur said.
2. Check out new toys
New toys can also present a choking hazard, especially when babies or toddlers get into older kids’ toys that contain small pieces or have removable parts. Read the labels on new toys to make sure they’re age-appropriate, Levasseur recommends.
You should also know that watch or button batteries – the small, flat batteries used in some toys – are extremely dangerous if swallowed. In fact, if this type of battery stays in a child’s esophagus for two hours it can begin to erode away the esophagus.
“This is a medical emergency if you think that a child has swallowed one of these button batteries,” Levasseur said.
3. Beware of dog bites
Many kids love greeting dogs they encounter at new places – and that “hello” sometimes involves trying to hug or roll around with the pet.
“Most of the dog bites that the kids get are on their face,” Levasseur said. “They get down at the level of the dog to try to play with them. They’re not trying to hurt them, they just want to play with the dog and the dog gets scared.”
When entering a home with a dog, ask the owners whether the animal has been around children.
“Teach the child that anytime you’re approaching a dog, you always have to ask the owner if you can pet them,” she said.
4. Maintain supervision
Decking the halls in a house with young children usually means lots of kid-safe ornaments, but grandma might not follow suit. Watch out for glass ornaments and ceramic figurines, which can lead to lacerations if they get into little hands.
“The more that the families can be prepared before the kids come to their house for the holiday season the better,” Levasseur advises.
Holiday plants including poinsettia and mistletoe pose another hazard if consumed, and there have also been cases of children finding leftover alcoholic beverages during or after a holiday party.
Incidents are more common during parties since there’s often less parental supervision.
“If kids can’t hurt themselves with what’s around, everyone’s going to be better off,” she said.
5. Keep healthy habits
With families so busy during the holidays, it’s easy to forget about the things that keep our kids in good health.
“Maintaining healthy sleep and eating habits throughout the holidays can be tough, but it makes a big difference,” Levasseur said. “In general, the kids who stay closest to their normal sleep patterns and keep eating healthy are less likely to catch the different types of colds and viruses we see at this time of year.”
If an injury or illness does occur, trust your instincts. Don’t hesitate to take your child to the emergency room if you feel it’s needed.
“Moms’ instincts are amazing. If you feel your child needs to get to the emergency room, there’s a good chance you’re right,” Levasseur said. “You know your child the best. You’re the best one to make that decision.”