'Tis the season for decking halls and trimming trees, but with all the increased activity and excitement, the most wonderful time of the year can also be the most hazardous, especially for children. As part of Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital is part of one of the busiest pediatric trauma centers in the country.
Between Thanksgiving and New Years' Day, approximately one in five cases seen at the world-class level one trauma center will be children age 15 and under. The number of pediatric admissions during this time has increased a staggering 36 percent in just the last four years. So while Santa is busy making his list, this is the only one you need to be checking twice to ensure your kids have a safe, happy and injury-free holiday season.
- Trees. Falls are the number one cause of injury to children and elderly alike, so be extra careful while trimming the tree. Do not place your tree close to a heat source, including a fireplace or heat vent. The heat will dry out the tree, causing it to be more easily ignited by heat, flame or sparks. Do not put your live tree up too early or leave it up for longer than two weeks. Keep the tree stand filled with water at all times.
- Lights. Check all tree lights - even if they are brand new - before hanging them on your tree. Make sure all the bulbs work and that there are no frayed wires, broken sockets or loose connections. Never use electric lights on a metallic tree. The tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights, and anyone touching a branch could be electrocuted. Never leave lights on unattended.
- Decorations. Use only flame-resistant materials to trim a tree. Choose tinsel or artificial icicles of plastic or nonleaded metals. Take special care to avoid decorations that are sharp or breakable. Keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children to prevent them from swallowing or inhaling tiny pieces. Avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food that may tempt a young child to eat them and possibly choke.
- Candles. Make sure candles are in stable holders and place them where they cannot be easily knocked over. Keep them at least 12 inches from anything flammable. Never leave a room or go to bed with candles still burning. Consider using battery-operated flameless candles, which can look, smell and feel just like the real thing.
- Fireplaces. Use a sturdy fireplace screen to prevent kids from getting too close to the open flames. Before lighting any fire, remove all greens, boughs, papers, and other decorations from fireplace area. Confirm that the flue is open. Use care with "fire salts," which produce colored flames when thrown on wood fires. They contain heavy metals that can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting if eaten. Keep them away from children.
- Space heaters. Never place a space heater on carpets or a rug that could catch fire. Keep the heater at least three feet away from all other flammable materials. Keep children and pets away. Turn the heater off if you leave the room and never leave a space heater on when you go to sleep.In the kitchen. Keep hot liquids and food away from the edges of counters and tables where they can easily be knocked over by little ones. Do not leave appliances unattended. Keep pot handles turned in on the stove and always keep the oven door closed. Test anything that comes out of the microwave before giving it to a child; liquids and food are often hotter than you think.
- Spirits. Take care to remove all empty or partially empty glasses after hosting that holiday party to ensure a child does not ingest any alcohol.
- Toys. Select toys to suit the age and abilities of the intended child. Before allowing your child to play with a toy that he or she has received as a gift, read the instructions carefully. To prevent both burns and electrical shocks, do not give children under 10 a toy that must be plugged into an electrical outlet. Instead, buy toys that are battery-operated. Do not give children under three toys or items with small parts.
- Wrapping paper and ribbons. Remove all wrapping papers, bags, paper, ribbons and bows from tree and fireplace areas after gifts are opened. These items can pose suffocation and choking hazards to a small child or can cause a fire if near flame.