Children and toxic plant poisoning

April 30, 2010  |  General

As I’ve written about before, we commonly see children in the PICU as a result of some toxic ingestion or other. Toddlers take medicines they shouldn’t, but don’t know any better; teenagers also take medicines they shouldn’t, but usually should know better.

Toddlers also put anything in their mouths, including plants, and some of these are potentially toxic. In fact, between 5 and 10% of calls to poison control centers involve a plant ingestion. Yet hospitalizations of children for plant poisoning or toxicity are extremely rare. Thus, although such exposures are common, serious consequences are rare. Still, it is good for parents to be aware of some of the common plants around the house and garden than can cause problems.

Philodendron leaves, for example, can be quite irritating to the mouth and tongue but don’t cause any systemic effects. At holiday time, the berries of both holly and mistletoe, particularly the latter, can be quite toxic, so it’s important to keep them out of reach of toddlers. Here and here are lists of common indoor and outdoor plants that can cause problems.

What should you do if your child has eaten some plant material that worries you? The answer is to call your local Poison Control Center, the number for which is in the front of most telephone books.

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