Guest Editorial by the American College of Emergency Physicians
‘Tis the season for accidents and injuries that send thousands of people to the emergency department each year. The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) asked emergency physicians around the country what they typically see on a shift during the holidays, and here are some of the most common injuries to avoid in preparation for the festivities:
•Injuries while hanging holiday lights: Everyone gets excited to put holiday decorations up quickly but, during the 2019 holiday season, about 14,800 people were treated in emergency departments for holiday decorating-related injuries. Half of those involved a fall, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Be careful when decorating outside. Be mindful of the weather and slippery surfaces, and the risks that come with heights. If anyone must go on the roof, make sure they are familiar with ladder safety tips before they start to climb; inspect the ladder for damage before use, make sure it is planted on firm and level ground, and have another person hold it in place while anyone is climbing. Using the “buddy system” for these projects can be a lifesaver just in case anything goes wrong.
A word to the wise, if alcohol is part of the holiday celebration, save the drinks until after the decorating is done.
•Trees and decorating mishaps: Dry Christmas trees are a serious fire risk, and that’s one reason many people prefer fresh trees if they plan to keep a real tree in the house. For those who cut down their own tree, stray branches can cause serious eye injuries, so it is smart to wear protective gear. Sharp tools, axes or chainsaws should only be used by adults who are familiar with these tools or trained to use them properly. Those who attempt to channel their inner lumberjack may find it safer and more efficient to simply ask for help.
Once inside, be sure to keep the seasonal fir a safe distance away from heat sources, candles or other flammable items. If selecting an artificial tree, look for a fire-resistant option when possible.
•Use care when decorating: Badly sliced hands and feet from broken ornaments are some of the most common accidents each year. Keep sharp or fragile decorations away from children. Be careful retrieving decorations from dimly lit attics or high shelves. Exposed nails or wiring, low beams, and spots where footing may be uneven contribute to high injury risks.
•Gifts can be dangerous, too: Wrapping paper is flammable, so it is important to keep packages and paper products away from candles or the fireplace. Injuries with knives and scissors are common during the holidays, and bad cuts can be avoided by opening presents with care. When giving gifts, choose toys that are age appropriate or match a child’s abilities. For children under 3, anything with small parts can be a choking hazard. For children under 6, keep an eye on button batteries and avoid toys with small magnets. If they are swallowed, they can cause serious injury or death. Be sure to include a helmet and appropriate safety gear with bikes or scooters.
•Kitchen dangers: More accidents happen in the kitchen than any other room in the house, emergency physicians say. Never leave the stove on unattended. Take your time while preparing meals, and concentrate on the tasks at hand because knife lacerations, burns or spills that happen when people are rushing or distracted can be very painful. The professionals on the frontlines agree that deep-frying a turkey is one of the most delicious but dangerous holiday meals. Never put a frozen turkey into hot oil, that can cause a big explosion. Completely thaw the bird first, pat it dry and follow all the cooking instructions.
“The holidays can be a wonderful time, but these are also some of the busiest days in the emergency department,” said Gillian Schmitz, M.D., FACEP, president of ACEP. “Make sure your holidays are memorable for the right reasons. A little bit of common sense and some safety precautions can go a long way toward making sure that you spend the holiday with loved ones instead of in the hospital.”
The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) is the national medical society representing emergency medicine. Through continuing education, research, public education, and advocacy, ACEP advances emergency care on behalf of its 40,000 emergency physician members, and the more than 150 million Americans they treat on an annual basis. For more information, visit www.acep.org and www.emergencyphysicians.org.