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Healthcare and the Holidays: Nurses, Doctors Brace for Injuries, Illness

While the holidays are a time of joy and a celebration of peace for many, the end of November through early January also can be fraught with potential illness, injury and stress. Doctors, nurses and paramedics everywhere are on high alert.

Emergency departments around the United States brace for an influx of patients who have fallen off ladders or stepped on broken glass decorating their houses. Waiting rooms in primary care physicians’ offices and outpatient clinics resonate with sniffles, sneezes and coughs.

The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that emergency departments nationwide will see an average of 12,000 to 15,000 holiday injury victims during a given holiday period.

Holiday activities that are meant to be fun sometimes result in injury or even death. For example, the CPSC reported an estimated 80 deaths and 700 injuries due to burning Christmas trees or candles during the holiday seasons of 2009-2011.

Those are extreme examples, and rare. Most people, fortunately, enjoy a safe and happy holiday period. But the best way to do that is to take common-sense precautions to safeguard your health.

Tips for Holiday Safety

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the National Safety Council (NSC), the CPSC, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other organizations provide a wealth of warnings to ensure holiday safety.

The potential for illness and injury can be related to almost any activity, including:

  • Eating or cooking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Decorating
  • Outdoor activities
  • Cold-related injury
  • Influenza and upper respiratory infection

The CDC recommends that everyone, especially people in cold climates and/or areas affected by a flu outbreak, exercise common sense to avoid injury or illness. Recommended precautions include:

  • Washing your hands often.
  • Covering your mouth when sneezing for coughing.
  • Wearing warm clothes when spending time outside.
  • Managing stress by getting enough sleep, seeking support from family and friends when necessary and maintaining a positive outlook.
  • Concentrating on safety when traveling.
  • Avoiding over-eating or violating dietary restrictions related to heart disease or diabetes.
  • Handling and cooking food safely, including avoiding cross-contamination of raw poultry, seafood, eggs and raw meat with cooking surfaces and eating surfaces.
  • Avoiding over-imbibing with alcoholic beverages.
  • Taking care when introducing new toys to kids, especially outdoor locomotion toys like bicycles or scooters.

This last holiday safety tip is of particular concern to the CPSC, which regulates toy safety and confiscated 745,000 unsafe toys at American ports from July 2016-July 2017 – including 360,000 toys with lead.

The CPSC recommends that parents check the labels of toys to be sure that they are age-appropriate, and that children wear the correct safety equipment when operating bicycles, scooters and other riding toys. Recently, the CPSC has cautioned against purchasing certain brands of hoverboards, which should be compliant with the UL 2272 safety standard.

Also, toys with magnets – particularly high-powered magnets – should be kept away from children 13 and under, as should building sets with magnets.

Be Mindful of Stress

The most potentially dangerous activity during the holidays is allowing stress to take hold. Stress can lead to sleep deprivation, fatigue, sadness, loneliness and irritability.

Traffic, planning for holiday parties, work obligations, gift shopping, taking care of kids out of school and other factors can exacerbate stress during the holidays, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).

In order to mitigate holiday stress, the APA reported that Americans took part in stress-relief activities such as:

  • Meditation or yoga
  • Listening to music
  • Reading
  • Going to church or praying
  • Eating
  • Exercising

The APA does not recommend turning to food or alcohol in excess to relieve stress. Rather than falling into poor eating habits during the holidays, try to approach it as a season of renewal and resolution – after all, New Year’s is just around the corner.

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