Avoid Holiday Emergency Department Visits

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Dad falling off the roof as he strings lights, Grandma fainting under the Christmas tree, a massive fire in the kitchen: These emergencies are funny in holiday movies — and anything but in real life.

And yet, hazards abound around the holidays. The food. The ice. The germs.

Here are some tips for keeping you and your loved ones out of the emergency department and feeling festive this season.

1. Drive slowly and safely. Motor vehicle fatalities tend to spike around both summer and winter holidays, when masses of people take to the road to visit family and the weather doesn’t always cooperate. Between 1975 and 2002, the four deadliest days on the road were July 4, July 3, Dec. 23 and Dec. 24.

It should go without saying, but buckle up, make sure your kids are in size-appropriate car seats, stick to the speed limit and have a mechanic make sure your car is road-worthy for all weather.

2. Enjoy, but don’t go crazy. Many holiday-time emergency department visits happen because people eat too much or drink too much alcohol. Heart attack risk jumps after you eat a heavy meal, research has shown, and the high fat content of a holiday dinner can trigger a gallbladder attack in people with gallstones. Then there are acid reflux, indigestion and gas, all of which can be intense after a super-caloric meal.

Drinking too much alcohol can create emergency consequences, of course, from triggering a heart attack or stroke to drunken driving and injuries from falling.

3. Cook and decorate with care. You want to make sure only the chestnuts are roasting by an open fire, not your whole house. Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires, followed by Christmas and Christmas Eve. Each year, an average of 210 home fires in the U.S. start with Christmas trees; the top three days for candle fires at home are Christmas, New Year’s Day and Christmas Eve.

To stay safe, monitor the stove and oven while cooking, keep kids and pets away from burning candles, turn off electric decorations and put out all fires before leaving or going to bed. Ask smokers to smoke outside and wet down their cigarette butts.

4. Fight the flu. For most people, the flu is painful but temporary misery. But for some, especially older adults, babies and people with chronic diseases or compromised immune systems, the flu can be deadly. And, of course, the holidays are a time, smack dab in the middle of flu season, when people of all generations crowd together in one house to hug, kiss and share food.

Protect your family by making sure everyone has had a flu shot before the holidays. Wash your hands often, and don’t share utensils or drinks — and try to get kids and other family members to do the same.

5. Take care of your mental health. You may have heard the myth that suicides happen most frequently during the holiday season. It’s not true. But it is true that the holidays can trigger emotional challenges for people, whether or not they have mental illness.

Make sure to take space and time for yourself, whether it’s bundling up for a walk outside or locking the bathroom door for a bath. Setting boundaries with family about what you will or won’t do — or talk about — may help reduce conflict. And if you need something, whether it’s professional help or the company of a friend, ask for it.

If you have an emergency during the holiday season — or any time —seek care right away. Call 911 or visit your closest emergency department. Care options, depending on the severity of your condition, include urgent or express care.