'Be careful': Doctors issue warning about hazards of Christmas star confetti

An ultrasound image shows a confetti star lodged in an infant's throat.
An ultrasound image shows a confetti star lodged in an infant's throat. Photo: Medical Journal of Australia

You might think those tiny plastic confetti stars make an innocuous and festive addition to a family Christmas table, but experts say they pose significant health risks to babies and young children.

Identified as a "Christmassy choking hazard", a case study published in the Medical Journal of Australia has highlighted an incident involving a nine-moth-old baby who underwent emergency surgery as a result of a confetti star becoming lodged in her throat.

Paul Heyworth from Gold Coast University Hospital and Ryan Shulman from Queensland X-Ray detailed the case which began when the baby girl attended an ER after a choking episode.

While the girl's mother said that she had coughed up some blood, the infant was sent home with doctors suggesting she had choked on saliva.

Two days later she was rushed back to hospital with increasing fever, cough, swelling and breathing issues - and refusing to swallow food or liquids.

Doctors performed an ultrasound which revealed the girl had an abscess in her throat, but the cause still had not been identified.

Emergency surgery to drain the abscess uncovered the culprit - a single confetti star which had become "embedded in the baby's windpipe."

"A star-shaped density was discovered at the margin of the abscess," said the study authors.

"During emergency incision and drainage in theatre, a plastic star embedded within the posterior hypopharyngeal wall was removed."

The baby made a full recovery and has not had any health problems since the incident, however the study authors are using the case to warn parents about the dangers of the festive decoration around infants and toddlers.

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"While uncommon, the potential for similar cases to present over these Christmas holidays exists," they write.

It's a double whammy of risk factors - the bright, shiny decorations attract the attention of young children who are at the developmental stage of putting objects in their mouths.

"Despite their flexible nature, the sharp points of confetti stars appear to increase the risk of lodgement," in the throat, write Heyworth and Shulman.

The experts are urging parents to be vigilant and for package labelling to carry consumer warnings about the dangers of star confetti to young children.

For advice on child accident prevention, see the Kidsafe website.