Hospital Gift Giving 101: What Can You Send to ICU Patients?

Christian Worstell
In this article...
  • Picking out an appropriate gift for a hospitalized loved one can be challenging. Explore gift-giving options, and learn what you can send to ICU patients.

Sending a gift to a friend or family member who’s in the hospital can be a great way to let them know you’re thinking about them, but if they’re in the ICU, popular items, such as flowers and plants, may be prohibited for health and safety reasons.

So, whether you’re dropping by the hospital for a visit or sending good wishes from afar, it’s important to pick out an appropriate gift for your loved one. Here are a few things you should know about what you can send to ICU patients.

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Can Gifts Be Sent to ICU Patients?

ICU patients can typically receive gifts that are delivered or brought in personally, and items that make an individual more comfortable while receiving care are often welcome. However, hospitals may impose strict limits on what you can bring into an intensive care unit and may prohibit items, such as flowers, plants and stuffed animals.

What Can You Send to ICU Patients?

What you can send to an ICU patient may vary depending on the facility, but many hospitals permit gifts such as:

  • Greeting cards
  • Photographs
  • Books and magazines
  • Music or audiobooks on CD or MP3 players with headphones
  • Self-care items, such as lip balm, skin cream or soft socks
  • Playing cards, small puzzles and other entertainment items

Because ICU rooms often have limited space, gifts should preferably be small, practical and not interfere with vital hospital equipment. To make sure a potential gift complies with the facility’s health and safety guidelines, it’s important to check hospital policy before you bring anything into the ICU.

Why Can’t You Bring Flowers to ICU Patients?

A hospital’s intensive care unit provides care to severely ill patients who require close monitoring and critical treatment. Because of this, most ICUs prohibit gifts that have the potential to negatively impact the health of patients. Flowers and plants typically aren’t allowed in intensive or critical care units because they can harbor mold and other organisms that cause infections and illness. They can also trigger allergic reactions in some patients, which can be particularly dangerous for individuals with respiratory conditions, such as asthma.

What Other Gifts Are Prohibited in the ICU?

Depending on the facility, gifts that may be prohibited in an ICU include:

  • Balloons: Metallic and Mylar balloons can interfere with critical ICU equipment, while latex or rubber balloons may cause allergic reactions in individuals with sensitivities.

  • Fruit baskets, candy and other edibles: Edible gifts are typically forbidden in ICUs because of their potential to cause allergic reactions or conflict with a patient's nutritional requirements.

  • Plush toys: Stuffed animals and other plush toys can transmit pathogens to patients, particularly those with compromised immune systems.

  • Fragrances: Perfumes, scented lotions and other items containing fragrances are often prohibited throughout hospitals.

The ICU may also prohibit cell phones and other devices that require a cellular connection to operate, as they may interfere with nearby equipment. 

Do Other Hospital Wards Restrict the Types of Gifts a Patient Can Receive?

Yes. Hospital wards that house patients who may be immunocompromised often restrict the types of gifts that a patient can receive. That may include:

  • Pediatrics
  • Oncology wards
  • Cardiac care units
  • Labor and delivery floors

Have Medicare questions?

Talk to a licensed agent today to find a plan that fits your needs.

Great Gift Ideas for Hospital Patients in the ICU

Whether you’re planning an in-person visit or looking for a suitable gift to send, the following items make great gifts for hospital patients in an intensive care unit:

  • Framed photographs: Having photos of friends and family, beloved pets and favorite places or events can be comforting to seriously ill patients. Small, framed photos can be placed on a windowsill or nightstand where the patient can easily view them.

  • Personal items from home: Familiar items, such as small, unbreakable knickknacks, a treasured book of poetry or a favorite coffee mug, can bring a taste of home to individuals during a hospital stay.

  • An MP3 player: ICU patients who are awake and alert may appreciate an MP3 player loaded with music, audiobooks, guided meditations or podcasts. If you don’t know the recipient’s taste in entertainment, include a gift card, so they can make their own selections. Be sure to remember headphones or earbuds, so the patient can listen without disrupting others in the ICU.

  • Comfortable wearable items: For patients who are able to sit up, comfortable items, such as pajamas, bathrobes and cozy, nonskid socks, can be a welcome addition to a hospital wardrobe. Individuals who have to wear a hospital gown may appreciate the touch of fun a custom gown can bring. Companies, such as Giftgowns, sell convenient snap-back gowns in lively colors that feature cheerful graphics and funny quips.

  • Tablet stands: Tablet stands let patients comfortably use their mobile devices. These items may be especially helpful for individuals who are weak or have limited mobility.

  • Games, puzzles and other forms of entertainment: Patients who are alert often appreciate gifts that help them pass the time. Puzzle books and handheld electronic games can provide hours of entertainment for patients confined to bed, particularly after visiting hours have ended. If your gift includes an electronic device, make sure to include batteries or a charging cord.

  • Messages from loved ones: You can’t go wrong with notes, voice recordings or video clips with well-wishes from friends, family members and colleagues. These personal messages can be a great way to brighten the day for ICU patients whose visitors may be limited to immediate family.

How to Choose the Right Gift for a Hospital Patient

Choosing a gift for a hospital patient, particularly if they’re in the ICU, can require thought and creativity. Ultimately, the gift you select should be something the patient can comfortably use and enjoy, and it shouldn’t interfere with vital equipment or impact the hospital staff’s ability to do their jobs.

If you aren't sure whether a potential gift is acceptable for an ICU patient, check the facility’s guidelines, which often include specific information about what is and isn’t permitted in intensive and critical care wards. These guidelines can typically be found on a hospital’s website or by asking front desk or nursing staff.

Have Medicare questions?

Talk to a licensed agent today to find a plan that fits your needs.

Christian Worstell
About the Author

Christian Worstell is a senior Medicare and health insurance writer with He is also a licensed health insurance agent. Christian is well-known in the insurance industry for the thousands of educational articles he’s written, helping Americans better understand their health insurance and Medicare coverage.

Christian’s work as a Medicare expert has appeared in several top-tier and trade news outlets including Forbes, MarketWatch, WebMD and Yahoo! Finance.

While at HelpAdvisor, Christian has written hundreds of articles that teach Medicare beneficiaries the best practices for navigating Medicare. His articles are read by thousands of older Americans each month. By better understanding their health care coverage, readers may hopefully learn how to limit their out-of-pocket Medicare spending and access quality medical care.

Christian’s passion for his role stems from his desire to make a difference in the senior community. He strongly believes that the more beneficiaries know about their Medicare coverage, the better their overall health and wellness is as a result.

A current resident of Raleigh, Christian is a graduate of Shippensburg University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. You can find Christian’s most recent articles in our blog.

If you’re a member of the media looking to connect with Christian, please don’t hesitate to email our public relations team at

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