Dr. Carolyn McClain is an ER physician and medical director of The Urgency Room in Woodbury, Eagan and Vadnais Heights, Minn.
Nothing makes you more of a grinch during the holiday season than a trip to the emergency room when you should be home enjoying good food, family and friends. Unfortunately, accidents are very common during the holiday season for a variety of reasons. Here are the top concerns you should steer clear of if you don't want to have a "bah humbug" attitude about the holidays this year:
Overeating, too much salt and cardiac health
Let's face it, many of us eat too much, especially on Thanksgiving. This is a problem because the extra digestive workload demanded by a food binge requires the heart to pump more blood to the stomach and intestines. Heavy consumption of fatty foods can also lead to changes that cause blood to clot more easily. This is why heart attack risk surges during the holidays and why we see so many patients. One study from the University of California-San Diego shows cardiac deaths rise nearly 5 percent on Dec 25, Dec. 26 and Jan. 1. That's an estimated 2,000 extra deaths annually.
Another concern is holiday heart syndrome. This is a real and serious medical phenomenon that occurs when we consume large amounts of food, alcohol, caffeine and salt. One symptom of the condition is heart rhythm disturbances, including atrial fibrillation - the most common heart rhythm disorder. In atrial fibrillation, the heart beats rapidly and in an irregular fashion. Atrial fibrillation can result in health complications including stroke. Holiday heart syndrome can also lead to a weakened heart - a condition called cardiomyopathy - congestive heart failure and even heart attack.
Cuts and burns
Making food for big holiday feasts can easily lead to cooking-related injuries. Knives and other sharp objects can easily be mishandled in all the hustle and bustle of the season or when alcohol is being consumed. We also see injuries from knives when they are used to open thick plastic on toys. Be sure to use scissors, not a knife. Hot pots and pans are also a risk. Keep them away from curious children and pets.
About 5,800 individuals are treated annually in hospital emergency rooms for injuries sustained from falls involving holiday decorating. This can include putting lights up on the house or reaching too far on the ladder to get the star on the top of your tree.
In addition, 4,000 people a year are treated in emergency rooms for injuries associated with extension cords. Half of these injuries involve fractures, lacerations, contusions or sprains as a result of people tripping over the cords.
At The Urgency Room, we see many injuries from sledding hills including broken arms, back injuries and concussions. Make sure your children - and adults - are sledding on a hill that is not too steep and has a long, flat area at the bottom to glide to a stop. Choose snowy, not icy hills and make sure the hill is free of obstacles like jumps, bumps, rocks, poles or trees before beginning sledding. Also wait for others to move out of the way before you start down the hill.
With all their shine and glitter, holiday decorations are especially tempting to infants who can quickly choke on items like tinsel, small ornaments, tiny pinecones and pieces from nativity scenes. Be sure to keep all such hazards well out of the reach of children; this includes popular holiday food items like nuts and hard candies, too.
Adults need to beware as well as broken glass from ornaments and decorations poses a risk, especially if stepped on. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, approximately 6,200 people are treated for injuries related to holiday decorations and Christmas trees and an additional 1,300 people are treated each year in emergency departments for injuries related to holiday lights.
Toxic candles, sprays
Do you ever stop to consider what is in the smoke that burns from your candles? They can release hundreds of chemicals, including cancer-causing benzene into your home's air every time you burn them. This is particularly true of scented candles, as the fragrance oils often contain phthalates, which have been linked to numerous hormonal disruptions, breast cancer, early or delayed puberty and more. Spray on snow is also hazardous as it contains acetone and methylene chloride, a probable carcinogen.
Be aware and enjoy the holidays
Understanding the impact and the numbers affected each year from these holiday mishaps can help keep you and your family safe and aware. Enjoy the holiday season!