Trauma director offers tips to avoid trips to the ER this season
By Vishal Bansal, M.D.
While the holidays are filled with celebration and joy, they also are associated with accidents and injury resulting in unexpected visits to the local emergency department or trauma center.
Think about it, not only are people climbing ladders and standing on roofs to hang lights and ornaments, and celebrating at parties and social events, they also are drinking larger amounts of alcohol.
Here are some insights into common injuries that occur during the holidays and ways to avoid them.
What are some of the most common holiday-related injuries?
- Falls from ladders or roofs while decorating the outside of homes or trees.
- Electrocution from plug-in decorations.
- Burns from fires caused by candles, electric decorations, fireplaces or even deep-frying a turkey.
- Motor vehicle collisions — increased volume of holiday traffic combined with alcohol consumption.
- Pedestrian accidents.
- Children choking on small parts of toys.
- Children injured while testing new bicycles, skates or skateboards often times without a helmet.
- Interpersonal violence stemming from disputes and fueled by alcohol.
- Suicide or self-injury — the holidays, in general, are associated with an increase of depression which may lead to self-harm.
What are the statistics behind these concerns?
Each year about 410 home fires are started with Christmas trees or holiday lights, causing 20 deaths and $25.3 million in damage.
About 15,000 people annually suffer injuries related to holiday decorations – that amounts to 250 injuries each day during the holiday season.
About 5,800 of those people end up in hospital ERs for fall injuries associated with holiday decorations – more than half are from falls off ladders or roofs.
Are there other health risks associated with the holidays?
A number of studies have found a significantly higher incidence of heart attacks and cardiac deaths in November and December when compared with the summer months.
One large study found that more cardiac deaths occurred on Dec. 25 than any other day in the year. Coming in second and third were Dec. 26 and Jan. 1.
While we don’t know exactly why this is the case, possible reasons include: changes in diet, alcohol consumption, increased stress, and lack of attention to signs and symptoms of a heart attack.
What can people do to stay safe and healthy this holiday season?
When using a ladder, make sure it is in good working order and placed on a stable surface, and make sure someone else is helping you.
Avoid electrical injuries and fires by making sure you use well-made extension cords that are in good condition, never overload electrical sockets, and unplug cords when they aren’t in use or when you go to sleep.
Take your time when unwrapping gifts.
Never drink and drive. Use a designated drive or call for a ride.
Keep candles within sight and on stable, heat-resistant surfaces where they can’t be knocked over.
Make sure you take your medications while celebrating the season.
Try to eat healthy.
Minimize your stress. If you are feeling depressed, seek help.
If you feel chest pain or other possible heart attack symptoms, don’t hesitate to call 911.
—Vishal Bansal, M.D., is director of trauma surgery at Scripps Mercy Hospital San Diego in Hillcrest.