Don’t Make the ER Your Home for the Holidays

The holiday season brings with it a host of traditions: decorations, office parties, family gatherings, and – unfortunately – more visits to the emergency room. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recently estimated that in November and December 2015, ER departments nationwide treated 14,000 injuries involving holiday decorating – an average of 230 injuries per day.

These injuries come in many forms: cuts, broken bones, back strains, or falls (such as from a ladder while hanging holiday lights). And while such injuries might not sound like such a big deal, some can be extremely serious – even requiring surgery.

The good news? A trip to the ER this holiday season can be avoided, said Dr. Wally Ghurabi, medical director of the Nethercutt Emergency Center at UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica.

Ghurabi urges people to follow two rules in particular to avoid some of the most common injuries: complete your holiday decorating before you have an alcoholic drink, and take proper care when hanging lights and ornaments. This means using sturdy ladders to climb rather than improvised furniture or other objects. It also means properly stabilizing ladders on a solid surface and avoiding climbing to the top rungs.

“One year, a patient came into the ER for surgery after falling from a ladder onto the concrete floor while hanging lights on his garage,” Ghurabi recalled. “He’d been drinking before he began decorating, and he ended up with multiple broken ribs, a broken ankle, and a lacerated liver.”

Although accidents happen, Ghurabi stressed that we should take what precautions we can to avoid holiday ER trips. Other tips include:

  • If you use a live Christmas tree, check its water level every day and keep it away from heat sources to prevent fires. If you choose an artificial tree, be sure it is labeled fire-resistant.
  • Trim any branches that a toddler might pull or trip over, causing the tree to tumble onto them, a pet, or someone else.
  • When connecting multiple strings of lights, check the manufacturer’s recommendations and don’t connect more strings than suggested.
  • Use real candles sparingly, if at all. Flickering battery-powered candles are a safer option.
  • Use shatter-proof bulbs and ornaments.
  • If you decorate outdoors, ensure the lights and cords are certified for exterior use.
  • Keep holiday plants, such as holly or poinsettias, out of reach of small children and pets. Some parts of these and other plants are poisonous, if ingested.

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