The potential dangers of home plants for children

Perhaps not everyone knows that many of the houseplants that are grown on the balconies and in the gardens of our homes can, if ingested, be toxic or even poisonous to the human body. For this reason, it is important that parents know the characteristics and degree of toxicity of the most common plants and what symptoms they can cause in the child if they are ingested.

Generally speaking, if you do not have sufficient certainty about the safety of your plants, it is advisable to place them in places that are not accessible to children, at least while they are still small. We suggest the upper shelves of the bookcases (as long as they are very solid and sufficiently deep) or the hanging vases, with various types of rope or hemp supports, to the ceiling, to the walls, to the jambs of doors and windows: It is advisable to avoid perches, often light and little stable, that the child can easily pull himself on.

Attention to chemical treatments

It must be remembered that all chemical treatments (pesticides, leaf brighteners, fertilizers, etc.) carried out on house plants impregnate the leaves, the stem and the earth and, remaining on these parts for a long time that a child can easily touch, can become a potential danger of slow or even acute intoxication. It will then be preferable to use organic and non-chemical based synthetic fertilizer (more toxic) and to prevent the child from playing with the earth of the vases, covering it with moss or cardboard masks. Instead of leaf-gloss it will be advisable to dust the leaves more often, cleaning them occasionally with a little water-soaked cotton and, instead of the pesticide, it will be better to resort to a patient treatment with a soft toothbrush and a water sprayer ,

Harmful effects of plants

Going back to the potential dangers of indoor or garden plants it is necessary to know that, in general, poisonous plants are classified both on the basis of their degree of danger (with mild, moderate and severe toxicity) , and on the basis of the type of consequences they cause body. Some plants produce only local effects (local toxicity): swelling, irritation, dermatitis, ulceration of the parts with which they come into contact (mostly mouth, tongue or eyes).

Other shrubs, on the other hand, are defined as systemic toxicity because, when they are ingested, they cause general poisoning of the organism. The danger depends on the concentration of the active ingredient in the poisonous parts and the quantities ingested. Furthermore, in some plants only certain parts are poisonous, such as flowers, berries, leaves and seeds. In the presence of intoxication or poisoning symptoms, the mother must intervene immediately and eventually contact the pediatrician.

What to do in case of accidental ingestion

If the child has, after about 20-40 minutes from touching and putting in the mouth parts of the plant, swelling, irritation and redness in the mouth and eyes, it is necessary to wash and clean the irritated areas with freshwater. When the symptoms are gastrointestinal (stomach upset, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea) it is sufficient, in mild cases, to give the baby charcoal (which is good to always keep at home).

If, on the other hand, the symptoms are more severe and associated with pain throughout the body, contact the nearest Poison Control Center or take the child to the emergency room. When a doctor’s intervention is essential, it is very important for parents to be able to tell the common name (or even better the scientific name) of the plant that ingested the baby and, possibly, which part (flower, berry, leaf, roots) was assumed. For this reason, if you do not remember the name (which is usually found in Latin on the attached tag) it is useful to indicate the shape and color of the leaves and / or flowers of the plant or to show directly to the doctors of the hospital of what kind of shrub it is.

Characteristics of some poisonous plants

We report below on some of the most common poisonous plants.

  • Aconite (Aconitum napellus): perennial herbaceous plant with beautiful blue flowers in the shape of a helmet, gathered in clusters. It can be confused with gentian. The whole plant is toxic, especially the roots, which contain a powerful poison, aconitine.
  • Holly (Ilex aquifolium): Both berries (red) and leaves are toxic, and ingestion of few fruits can cause systemic effects (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, drowsiness, convulsions).
  • Azalea (Azalea indica): The poisonous parts are the leaves. It can give stomatitis, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, vision deficit, convulsions and coma.
  • Cyclamen (Cyclamen europaeum): the whole plant (aerial parts, tubers) is toxic. The sap causes skin irritation. Ingestion may cause gastrointestinal symptoms with vomiting and diarrhea; you can also have seizures.
  • Dieffenbachia (Dieffenbachia spp.): This elegant indoor plant, with large green leaves speckled with white, without flowers, is provided with a marked irritative and caustic action by contact. If the leaves are chewed, there is an intense burning sensation throughout the oral cavity with possible edema of the back-mouth structures and possible breathing difficulties.
  • Filodendro (Philodendron): represents one of the most common houseplants. It releases, from the petioles of the leaves, a rather toxic white milky substance, which can cause severe irritation to the skin and eyes and, if ingested, swelling of the tongue and suffocation.
  • Broom (Spartium junceum): can constitute a mortal danger and the symptomatology is manifested by gastrointestinal disorders (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea), convulsive crisis, comatose state that can reach death. If you collect the flowering branches of the plant, you should not bring your hands to your mouth before washing them thoroughly.
  • Jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens): the whole plant is poisonous. It can cause incoordination of movements, visual disturbances, dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, muscle weakness, seizures, respiratory failure.
  • Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis): The toxic parts are the seeds and the root. In case of ingestion the first symptoms are similar to those of a gastroenteritis: vomiting and abdominal pain with diarrhea, facial congestion and pupillary dilation.
  • Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis): flowers, leaves and fruits (red berries) are toxic. It is a plant of great danger and its poisoning can be deadly; attention must also be paid to simple contact. Abdominal pains, salivation, nausea, vomiting, heart problems are the symptoms; the clinical picture subsequently evolves towards coma and therefore death.
  • Oleander (Nerium oleander): it is a shrub widespread throughout Italy that is frequently found at the edge of roads as an ornamental plant, but also in gardens. It has twigs, leaves and flowers that contain a powerful poison; ingesting a single leaf can kill an adult. It is therefore prudent not to use this plant even to feed the fire of the fireplace and even more so to make roasts.
  • White buttercup or forest anemone (Anemone nemorosa): it is an ornamental plant with small and white flowers. All its parts are highly poisonous and can cause local irritation, respiratory depression and cardio-circulatory depression.
  • Ricino (Ricinus communis): its seeds, not infrequently, are confused with “borlotti” beans. The ingestion of a few seeds (2-3) is sufficient to cause death. The symptomatology is manifested by abdominal disorders, vomiting and diarrhea, increased skin temperature, embolism, intestinal bleeding, reduced emission of urine. Heart rhythm disorders and tetanus spasms are also established.
  • Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima): The milky juice that comes out of the stem is very poisonous from this beautiful flower. The substance can be dangerous both by ingestion and by skin contact and especially with the eyes; therefore, care must be taken to care for the plant.
  • Mistletoe (Viscum album): all its parts are toxic; particularly dangerous are the berries, due to their ability to attract children. The toxicity depends on the high content of a substance, the viscumina (which causes the agglutination of red blood cells) and the presence of other toxins. The symptoms are those of a gastroenteritis that occurs about ten hours after ingestion and is accompanied by intense thirst, slow heartbeats, collapse, dilated pupils and double vision.

Finally it must be remembered that the seeds of some fruits (bitter almonds, peaches, apricots) are toxic. The boys can be led to break the pits of these fruits to eat their seeds, as well as for sweet almonds, walnuts, etc. The poisoning, very serious, is due to the presence of amygdalin which, in contact with saliva, turns into cyanuric acid, a powerful poison. Thirty bitter almonds are enough to cause death irretrievably.

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