Deck the Halls Without a Trip to the ER

December 24, 2013
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Holiday season is in full swing. Spirits are up, and so are emergency room visits. 

With extreme eating, drinking, stress, and accidents from decorating, ER admissions generally increase around holiday time. Don’t let decking the halls and ringing in the New Year land you in the hospital.

Holiday season is in full swing. Spirits are up, and so are emergency room visits. 

With extreme eating, drinking, stress, and accidents from decorating, ER admissions generally increase around holiday time. Don’t let decking the halls and ringing in the New Year land you in the hospital.

Excessive alcohol consumption brings the vast majority patients to the emergency room over the winter holidays. The number of binge drinkers admitted emergency departments has increased steadily over the past few years. On New Year’s Eve of 2011, the emergency department at the University of California at San Francisco experienced a 50 percent jump in the number of ER visits from the year before. 70 percent of admissions were for alcohol intoxication. 

In addition to alcohol related incidents, emergency rooms see a spike in the number of coronary related incidents in December and January. According to a national study published in Circulation in 2004, heart related deaths increase by 5 percent during the holiday season. Fatal heart attacks peak on Christmas, the day after Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

And holiday mishaps may be funny in the movies, but decorating holiday health and safetydebacles send thousands of people to the emergency room each year. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that emergency departments nationwide saw 15,000 injuries involving holiday decorating during November and December 2012. 

Last year, the most frequently reported holiday decorating episodes seen in emergency departments involved falls (34%), lacerations (11%) and back strains (10%).  Christmas trees can be a hazard as well. From 2009 to 2011, fire departments nationwide responded to an average of 200 fires in which the Christmas tree was the first item on fire. These incidents resulted in 10 deaths, 20 injuries and $16 million in property loss.

“There are about 250 injuries a day during the holiday season. Adding safety to your checklist can keep a holiday tradition from becoming a holiday tragedy,” said U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Acting Chairman Robert Adler. “Keep Christmas trees watered well, don’t leave candles unattended, and use caution whenever you are on a ladder.”

If you end up in the emergency room over the next week or so, try to be patient. Remember that, just like you, many healthcare workers like to take a few weeks of vacation each year, and many of them want to be at home with their families over the holidays.

The problem is that regular staff and the highest ranking doctors and nurses in the hospital probably get to choose their vacation times first and are likely on vacation during the busy holiday rush. Be cautious, be your own advocate, and do not be afraid to ask lots of questions about the care you are receiving.

(Photo: Flickr/Samantha Maher)