There's no debating it: Poinsettias are crucial holiday decorations. They're vibrant, and if you care for yours long enough, they can live for years and grow to be 10 to 15 feet tall. (They're technically a perennial shrub or small tree.)
But they've gotten a bad rap for being sneakily poisonous. It turns out they're not poisonous enough to harm even a rat, but they can give your pet a pretty bad belly ache.
Poinsettia leaves have a bitter taste, yet your dog, cat, bird, rabbit or iguana might still munch on them, as pets do. And because poinsettias produce a "milky sap that is irritating to the skin, mouth, mucous membranes, conjunctiva of the eyes and, if ingested, to the gastrointestinal tract," Susan Konecny, a veterinarian and the medical director of the Best Friends Animal Society told HuffPost, "they most often cause mild to moderate gastric upset."
Which means you might find little gifts of vomit and diarrhea throughout your house when you get home, but nothing worse.
If your pet should eat your poinsettia, Konecny recommends calling your vet or ASPCA poison control. "Often the signs are mild and ingestion is generally not life threatening," she said, adding that, "depending on the amount ingested and the clinical signs, supportive care (fluids, medication) may be necessary."
Now, if you have a hungry baby crawling around and notice she has eaten a leaf, don't be alarmed: They won't do any real harm to humans. A 1971 study by Ohio State University fed rats a solution made from poinsettia plants and concluded that "when given extraordinarily high doses of various portions of the poinsettias," the rats showed "no mortality, no symptoms of toxicity, nor any changes in dietary intake or general behavior pattern."
Researchers calculate that a 50-pound child would have to eat 500 leaves to match the formula fed to the rats -- which is highly improbable due to the leaves' nasty taste.
That said, those allergic to latex or rubber might develop a rash if they come in contact with the leaves, according to Cliff Bassett, an allergist based in New York.
The poinsettia is part of the Euphorbiaceae family with rubber trees, each secreting a milky sap that can cause a reaction in those allergic to latex.
But of all the allergens in a home this time of year, Bassett says the biggest source is the Christmas trees, which can release mold spores into your home "within days of its presence," he said, adding that "dozens of different molds may be present on a live tree, and spore counts indoors can rise six times the normal indoor level within just a week or so."
He advises wiping a live tree down before bringing into your home, or limiting your exposure to the tree to seven days or less. A HEPA air filter might also provide some relief -- or, you could just go the artificial route.
If you think you might be allergic to poinsettias or Christmas trees, or that you're developing a reaction, Bassett recommends getting tested by an allergist. "The only successful way to prevent a reaction is avoidance and being prepared to treat such a reaction in the event it should occur."
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