The winter holiday season is upon us, and with it comes the winter holiday decor season. Many of these celebratory displays include poinsettia plants, recognizable by their star shape, bright red color, and shiny green leaves.
Conventional wisdom holds poinsettia plants are poisonous and the Pittsburgh Poison Center (PPC) receives numerous calls each year from concerned parents and pet owners when little ones and critters touch or ingest poinsettia leaves or flowers.
But are poinsettias, in fact, toxic?
Unlike other members of the Euphorbiaceae family, Euphorbia Pulcherrima also known as Christmas Flower or Poinsettia are not considered to be poisonous plants.
This is not to say that exposures are always symptoms free. Various parts of the plant can be irritating to the skin (itching or rash), the gastrointestinal tract (redness, self-limiting vomiting), and eyes (irritation). These symptoms are rarely serious but they can be both uncomfortable and upsetting.
Anyone who touches a poinsettia plant should remove all jewelry and wash their hands thoroughly; eyes should be flushed with 15-20 cups of warm water with the person’s head sideways over the sink (if only one eye is affected, make sure that eye is closer to the sink); if leaves or flowers are ingested, give the child or pet a normal serving of water or, for children under one, whatever fluid is appropriate for her diet (attempting to “flush” the system is not of any actual benefit and too much fluid can bloat the stomach).
The best way to avoid exposures is to keep poinsettias out of reach of children and pets, keeping in mind that children after have abilities to maneuver and climb that exceed parent/guardian/caregiver expectations. Take additional care to keep the areas around swings, play pens, safety gates, and animal crates free as determined children and animals often have a longer reach than anticipated. Also consider that children and pets can pull over tables and shelves if something piques their interest allowing them, in the best case scenario, to reach the plant and, in a worst case scenario, to be injured by falling furniture.
The holidays are a busy time and it’s our job to make sure they’re also as safe as possible. Utilizing simple prevention techniques goes a long way toward making sure this festive time of year as safe, and as much fun, as possible.
Your local poison center is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to answer any questions you might have concerning this, or any other, exposure. To be routed to your regional poison center, call 1-800-222-1222.