7 common holiday injuries and accidents (and how to avoid them)

Many people refer to the holiday season as the most wonderful time of the year. But from December into the new year, emergency department personnel tend to see a sharp increase in accidents and injuries associated with the holidays.

The good news is that you don’t have to roll yourself in bubble wrap to stay safe during the holidays. With some awareness, preparation and safety measures, you improve the chances that you and your loved ones will enter the new year in one piece.

Here are seven common holiday-related injuries and accidents, along with some tips for staying safe:

1. Fall-related injuries during holiday decorating

Everyone wants to deck the halls and make their homes merry and bright, but at what cost? According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, approximately 160 decorating-related injuries occur each day in the U.S. during the holiday season. Almost half of those accidents involve falls which often lead to broken bones, concussions and pulled muscles.

Avoid the injury:

Before you start decorating, check your ladder for broken or worn parts, especially if you haven’t used it since last year. Work with someone else, especially when up on a ladder. A good rule of thumb from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: For every four feet of height you have to climb, move the base of the ladder one foot away from the wall.

2. Toy-related injuries

Toys are supposed to bring smiles, not tears. But in 2020, emergency department staff across the country treated almost 150,000 toy-related injuries among children age 14 and younger. Nonmotorized scooters accounted for 21% of those injuries.

Avoid the injury:

With supply chain shortages and shipping delays, be careful not to buy products that may be unsafe or untested. Read all the instructions for new toys and be sure to follow age guidance and safety information listed on the package. If you or your children are using new scooters or riding toys, use protective gear and helmets. Keep small parts and packing materials away from young children.

3. Fires associated with holiday decorations

Whenever there’s extra cooking and baking happening, an increase in fires or minor burns is inevitable. When you add candles, overloaded electrical outlets and a Christmas tree to the mix, the chance of a fire goes up from there. Data from 2016 to 2018 reveals that during the months of November and December of those three years, Christmas trees caused 100 fires and candles caused 1,000 fires in the U.S.

Avoid the accident:

When cooking and baking during the holiday season, it’s easy to get distracted. Never leave the stove unattended, especially if there are children around, and turn off the oven as soon as food is done cooking. Keep your live Christmas tree watered, and if you are purchasing an artificial tree, look for one that’s fire resistant. Keep burning candles in sight away from flammable items, and never leave a candle burning in an unattended room.

4. Strained back and neck

There’s a lot of bending and lifting during the holidays — packages, Christmas trees, boxes full of decorations and heavy grocery bags.

Even if you let someone else do the heavy lifting, your neck may take some extra abuse around the holidays. Excess time shopping online (especially while sitting on the couch) can strain your neck and result in muscle soreness or even a pinched nerve.  

Avoid the injury:

If you must pick up something heavy, lift with your legs: squat to pick up a package and then straighten your legs to lift. Never lift a heavy object above shoulder level and avoid turning or twisting your upper body when lifting or holding heavy objects. Try to do your online shopping at your desk, a table or while using a lap desk to keep your computer at the optimum height.

5. Automobile accidents

The National Safety Council (NSC) estimates that more than 600 people die on the road in the United States during the days surrounding Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. During the 2019 holiday period, 38% of driving fatalities involved an alcohol-impaired driver. But accidents also happen when drivers are extra tired and distracted.

Avoid the accident:

Remember to buckle up and drive defensively, even if you’re just driving through a parking lot. If you plan to celebrate the season with an alcoholic drink, designate a sober driver or arrange alternate transportation. Avoid driving fatigued, distracted, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

6. Cutting yourself

It’s common to reach for scissors or a knife when you’re opening packages or wrapping and unwrapping gifts. But using those tools in a hurry or while distracted can cause a laceration or puncture wound requiring a trip to the emergency department.

Avoid the injury:

When using scissors or a knife, always cut away from yourself and away from anyone else. Help children who are struggling to open a gift. If you’re expecting a lot of packages, consider investing in a safety blade to help cut through the packing tape.

7. Food- and alcohol-related issues

It’s easy to get caught up in holiday celebrations, but all too often people get sick from the food and drink they enjoy. Two food-related issues to be aware of are food poisoning — which can occur when food is left out too long at parties and buffets — and allergic reactions, as more people eat away from home and sample unfamiliar food.

Alcohol poisoning also increases during the holiday season and it’s not surprising — the average American drinks for four days in a row over the holidays. The American Addiction Centers conducted a survey of 3,000 Americans and found that 42% say they consider drinking at Christmas to be a family tradition.

Avoid the injury:

If you know you have food allergies, be especially wary of trying anything that’s new or has unidentifiable ingredients. At parties, eat early, when the food is first put out. That way the food will be fresh, and you won’t be adding alcohol to an empty stomach. Drink slowly and try to drink a glass of water between each alcoholic beverage.

If you sustain a minor injury over the holidays, reach out to your primary care physician. For injuries that require immediate attention, visit one of our immediate care clinics or emergency department.


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