As reported by the New Haven Register, December 29, 2005.

Alcohol Poisoning Concerns Heighten at Year’s End

By Abram Katz

The alcohol that partyers drink during the holidays to generate a happy buzz can also cause potentially lethal seizures in a toddler.

This is why the Poison Control Center in Connecticut is urging adults to put all forms of alcohol — from half-consumed highballs to perfume — safely out of reach of curious kids.

"The main concern at this time of year, the most toxic, is alcohol," said Bernard Sangalli, director of the Poison Control Center at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington.

If you suspect that a child consumed alcohol or another harmful material, call the emergency poison hot line at 1-800-222-1222.

Emergency 911 operators may refer callers to that number, and hospital emergency departments often call for information on poisons and treatments, Sangalli said.

Grown-ups often decide to clean up after a party in the morning. Often half-full glasses of whiskey, vodka, rum and other distilled spirits mixed with fruit juice or sugar are sitting in the living room when 2- to 5-year-olds awaken.

"Parents may be unaware of potential poisoning risks for kids during the holidays," said Amy Hanoian-Fontana, poison control center community education specialist.

The center receives about 100 calls a day, many of which are alcohol-related.

"Spiked eggnog left on a low table is an invitation to disaster," said Dr. Marc Bayer, poison control medical director at the University of Connecticut Health Center.

"A child can get up at night, or in the morning, and be hungry. Mixed drinks are sweet," Sangalli said.

Toddlers’ blood sugar is already low from a night of sleep. Alcohol lowers blood sugar even more as it is metabolized by the liver, he said. Insulin, the hormone that makes sugar usable by cells is also thrown out of whack.

The child may develop dangerously low blood sugar, followed by seizures, coma and death, Sangalli said.

The alcohol effect depends on the weight of the child. "The dose makes the poison," he said.

Sometimes the alcohol remaining in half of a mixed drink is enough to cause a bad effect. An ounce of distilled spirits is more than enough to cause problems for a child, Sangalli said.

Alcohol is also a central nervous system depressant that can slow the heart and stop breathing in large amounts over a small period. This is usually not the threat that kids face, he said.

Children may not like the taste of the drink, but many have a strange reaction. Young children may swallow to get a foul-tasting liquid out of their mouths quickly, Sangalli said.

Alcohol takes several forms. Perfume left under the tree contains a high percentage of ethanol. So do certain mouthwashes.

Again, perfume tastes bitter, but instead of spitting it out, some children gulp.

Another hazard at this time of year is colorful lamp oil, Sangalli said. The oil may resemble a soft drink, prompting a taste.

When this happens, the child often chokes and inadvertently sucks some of the hydrocarbon liquid into his lungs. Delicate lung tissue becomes inflamed and releases fluid, creating chemical pneumonia.

Untreated chemical pneumonia often progresses to bacterial pneumonia, Sangalli said. In some cases, the child aspirates the liquid while swallowing, and then deposits more fuel into his lungs when he vomits hours later.

Lung congestion may not be immediately apparent. However, a child’s breath may smell like kerosene or lamp fluid.

When families visit relatives or relatives stay overnight another potential problem is medication. Some capsules or pills resemble candy and can cause serious problems, he said.

So keep all medications in an unreachable location. Keep oil lamps out of reach and don’t leave alcohol sitting around.

Real holly, mistletoe, juniper, cedar, pines and firs, may be harmful if swallowed. Poinsettias are not a problem unless a child consumes about 500 leaves.