ALEXANDRIA, Va., Dec. 10 Poinsettias and mistletoe, while lovely symbols of the holiday season, have long been thought to be gravely poisonous.
But while ingesting these holiday plants can cause discomfort, data from the American Association of Poison Control Centers indicates they are not quite the deadly hazards they've long been believed to be.
"Treating a poinsettia exposure is a glass of milk for the child and a tincture of reassurance for the parent," said Dr. Ed Krenzelok, managing director of the Pittsburgh Poison Center. "That's it."
Krenzelok has authored studies on both mistletoe and poinsettias that found that both are less deadly than the lore about them would indicate. His 1996 study on poinsettias found that most patients exposed to poinsettias can be treated at home without going to a health care facility. That study examined 22,793 poinsettia exposures and found no fatalities among them.
In 2008, U.S. poison centers received 1,174 calls about human exposures to poinsettias. Of those calls, only one resulted in one moderate medical effect and 27 resulted in a minor effect. No deaths or major effects were reported. In 2007, meanwhile, poison centers received 1,373 calls about poinsettia exposures and only three resulted in a moderate medical effect and 36 resulted in a minor effect.
In 2008, poison centers took 277 calls regarding animal exposures to poinsettias and in 2007 took 326 calls regarding animal exposure to poinsettias. Again, no deaths or major medical outcomes were reported.
"Other than a little bit of vomiting, we don't expect any problems from poinsettias," said Tina Wismer, a veterinary toxicologist for the Animal Poison Control Center in Urbana, Ill. She said poison centers field plenty of calls about animals eating poinsettias, but has never seen a serious effect. She advises callers not to panic about an animal nibbling at a poinsettia.
That said, Krenzelok cautions that taking anything in excess can be hazardous. Even drinking too much water, he said, can be dangerous.
Mistletoe, too, has suffered from a bad reputation, he said. In 2008, U.S. poison centers took 132 calls about human exposures to mistletoe and in 2007 131 calls about the plant. During both years, only one person saw a moderate medical outcome because of mistletoe exposure.
Those with questions about holiday plants or any other holiday-related product should call their poison center at 1 (800) 222-1222 for answers.
The American Association of Poison Control Centers supports the nation's poison control centers in their efforts to prevent poisoning. Poison centers offer free and confidential services 365 days a year and around the clock.
If you have questions or someone has eaten part of a mistletoe or poinsettia, please call 1 (800) 222-1222.
SOURCE American Association of Poison Control Centers