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Holidays mean more hazards for pediatric patients

Published: December 11, 2017 By: Kathryn McPherson
Jennifer Fishe, M.D.

UF Health Jacksonville pediatric emergency providers warn of the dangers to children this time of year.

The table is set, the lights are aglow and the whole family is gathered together. Just when all seems merry and bright, a child’s cough breaks through the cheer. The back of his new toy is open and the battery is nowhere in sight. It’s a tale of caution heard every year, yet it happens again and again.

At the pediatric emergency room at UF Health Jacksonville, specialists are prepared for the specific dangers that arise during the holidays. Jennifer Fishe, MD, associate medical director of pediatric emergency medicine, sees battery ingestion cases spike this time each year.

“The charge in a battery can erode the stomach, so eating one can be deadly,” Fishe said. “I caution parents to take note of any batteries and where they’re located in each toy, especially button batteries. Stay nearby while they’re playing with them, and certainly don’t leave batteries lying out.”

Fishe warns any battery-powered device is dangerous. She has seen children ingest button batteries from unassuming devices — in one case, a grandmother’s hearing aid.

“The kids were at the age when they could take things apart, and one child swallowed one of the button batteries,” she said. “It had to be removed endoscopically so it wouldn’t erode the esophagus.”

Toys, such as magnets, are also extremely hazardous when ingested. Not only are they a choking hazard, but one magnet will still attract another inside the body, which can lead to internal damage.

Emergency medicine providers also see an increase in dog and cat bites over the holidays, when out-of-town guests bring pets along for holiday visits.

“They bring the dog into a new environment, and toddlers will do cute things like offer the dog a cookie from their own mouth, which can end in a bad situation,” Fishe said. “A toddler’s height is basically a dog’s height. While adults might be bitten in the leg, a toddler is likely to be bitten in the neck or head. Supervision is key, and whoever is visiting with the animal should bring the pet’s shot records. When kids come in bitten, we need that information.”

Fishe says visiting relatives may not always be as careful about substances as they should be. Be aware of any alcohol left unsupervised during festivities, and check with guests about how they’re storing medicines.

“Too often, Grandma has her high blood pressure medication in a Ziploc bag and a child can get into those,” Fishe said. “It’s totally appropriate to ask guests, ‘are you taking any medications? Where are you keeping them?’ and ask that they be kept in a childproof container.”

Many festive plants, such as holly berries, poinsettias, mistletoe and rosary peas, are also poisonous if ingested.

“Anyone can call Poison Control at 800.222.1222 anytime,” Fishe said. “It doesn’t have to be a medication or anything toxic. It can be for magnets or even if your kid covers himself head to toe in scented body lotion, and you’re not sure if it’s safe. That’s the best resource for parents.”

Jennifer Fishe, M.D.

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