ER doctor explains the most common holiday injuries and how to prevent them

ER doctor explains the most common holiday injuries and how to prevent them

With the holiday season in full swing, it’s the perfect time to decorate the tree, hang decorations and string lights across the roof.

But thousands of people are injured every year doing those very activities. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 15,000 injuries involving holiday decorating were seen in emergency rooms in 2012, the most recent data available.

The most common injuries were falls, lacerations and back strains.

Andrew Foster, emergency medicine specialist at SSM Health, said around the holidays, a number of people, especially elderly people, end up in the emergency room after falling or slipping outside.

“Especially when it gets slippery,” Foster said. “Anybody falling, but especially elderly people, so just be careful when you’re shoveling and you’re putting salt out.”

The CPSC and the National Fire Protection Association said there are fires related to holiday cooking, candles, fireplaces, fireworks and even Christmas trees during the holidays.

Foster said he mostly sees cuts related to holiday cooking and injuries from outdoor activities like sledding.

“Typically people are more active during the holidays, so outdoors, sledding, skating, those sort of things,” he said. “We see a lot of musculoskeletal injuries. Also, people are preparing food for the holidays, so a lot of times, people cut or injure themselves preparing food, believe it or not.”

With tree trimmings, small ornaments and toys with tiny pieces around, the holidays also present a number of choking hazards for young children. Foster treats kids year-round who swallow small button batteries.

The National Capital Poison Center says every year, more than 3,500 people in the U.S. swallow coin lithium batteries. If swallowed or placed in the nose or ears, those batteries can cause serious injuries or death.

The emergency room at St. Mary’s Hospital also sees a number of holiday injuries related to alcohol consumption, Foster said.

“People are drinking more alcohol during the holidays, so injuries tend to happen more often when people are drinking,” he said. “We do see an uptake in car crashes.”

Many people choose to travel during the winter months. Alcohol contributed to 31 percent of the vehicle deaths during the 2013 holidays, according to the National Safety Council.

Here are some tips from the CPSC and NSC to make sure your holiday decorating is safe this year:

1. If buying a live Christmas tree, make sure it’s fresh. The needles shouldn’t break easily between your fingers. If buying an artificial tree, make sure it has a “fire resistant” label. Set trees up away from heat sources, and keep them watered.

2. Place ladders on firm and level ground when hanging lights and decorations. Have another person stand at the bottom of the ladder, and don’t lean too far to one side.

3. Keep tree trimmings away from small kids who could easily swallow small pieces.

4. Keep candles on heat-resistant surfaces within sight. Never use a lighted candle near a Christmas tree.

5. Check each string of holiday lights and every extension cord. Throw out old ones.

6. Keep poisonous plants, including some Poinsettias, away from pets and small children.

7. Be aware that some ornaments, toys and gifts could be choking or safety hazards.