5 Ways to Stay Out of the ER This Holiday Season

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You made it through Thanksgiving and you survived Black Friday. Congrats! You’ve officially made it to the holiday season. As long as you can get through the next few weeks of shopping, cooking, decorating, and entertaining, you’ll be home free in the new year. The tricky part will be navigating all that end-of-year chaos without an accident or two.

Holiday-related injuries are way more common than you might realize. According to the most recent report from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the number of seasonal accidents keeps rising. During the months of November and December in 2012, there were 15,000 falls, lacerations, and back strains that were serious enough to require an emergency room visit. The cause? Overzealous holiday decorating. And those estimates don’t even take into account the millions of dollars in fire damage from unattended candles, toppled Christmas trees, and faulty cookware.

The good news is most of these seasonal disasters are totally preventable. All it takes is a little preparation to stay safe and stay out of the ER. Here are five tips to keep you out of harm’s way during the holidays:

1. Deck the halls carefully.

It’s twinkle light season and you’re more than a little excited to cover every inch of your house–it’s understandable. But before you let the joy of sparkles cloud your judgment, make sure you know how to hang your decorations safely. First things first: don’t substitute a chair or desk for a proper step stool or ladder, and always make sure to wear slip-resistant shoes before climbing.

No matter how psyched you are to light up the whole room, make sure you’re climbing the right way. According to the National Safety Commission, you should face the ladder and grip the rungs, not the side rails, and always keep three points of contact on the ladder at all times–either two hands and one foot or two feet and one hand. Always keep your hips between the side rails and if you really need to drape the highest corners in lights, don’t overextend your reach; take the time to climb down and push your ladder closer to where you want to go.

If you can’t resist hanging mistletoe from the tallest doorframe, be sure to barricade the entry and post signs to avoid sudden entrances. And if you’re set on winning the neighborhood award for most festive exterior, keep an eye on the weather and get down immediately if there’s a threat of rain, snow, or even sprinkles.

2. Don’t fall victim to food poisoning.

If food poisoning makes you think of spoiled summer picnic dishes or late-night fast food binges, don’t forget contamination can definitely happen during the holidays. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, there are four easy steps to significantly reduce your risk: 1) always wash your hands, 2) keep raw meat, eggs, poultry, and seafood separate from prepared foods, 3) make sure to cook everything to its proper temperature, and 4) promptly refrigerate items at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Some people including pregnant women, older adults, young kids, and anyone with a weakened immune system, are especially vulnerable to food poisoning, so if you’re hosting any of these guests, be sure they’re steering clear of higher-risk foods like raw dairy or fish or rare meat.

3. Keep the kitchen fire-free.

According to the CPSC, kitchen fires triple during Thanksgiving. But the same turkey-day hazards loom throughout the holiday season. According to experts, the most dangerous time for fires in America is actually December through February. To sidestep a cooking disaster, avoid wearing loose-fitting clothes or long sleeves near the oven, and always turn the handles of simmering pots and pans toward the back of the stove to avoid accidental spills.

If you’re hoping to serve up a deep-fried bird, it’s worth reading the user manual carefully and taking extra precautions: since 2002, 168 turkey fryer-related accidents have caused over $8 million in property damage. Make sure the bird is fully thawed, never use a fryer indoors or on the porch, and always keep an eye on the bird as it cooks.

And if you’re sautéing up a storm, know how to handle grease fires. When cooking oil becomes too hot, it will boil, smoke, and eventually catch fire (most vegetable oils have a smoking point around 450 degrees and animal fats start around 375). Never leave dishes unattended as they cook, and if a grease fire does occur, do not pour water on it – it only makes it worse, since the oil will splash and spread the flames. Instead, turn the heat off, cover the pot with a metal lid, and pour baking soda on the flames if they’re small. If the fire gets out of control, douse it with a fire extinguisher and immediately evacuate the house.

4. Stay sharp and prevent knife injuries.

Believe it or not, most knife injuries occur due to dull blades, so before you don your apron, make sure your tools are extra sharp. According to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, there are plenty of other tricks to carving, chopping, and julienning safely. Always use knives in dry, well-lit areas, and always wipe the handles dry as well. No matter how simple the slice may be, never cut toward yourself. Cutting boards are your friends, so avoid the temptation of using your hand to hold that bagel you’re slicing mid-air: it’s way too risky.

5. Don’t delay care–get treated ASAP.

Accidents aren’t the only reason people end up in the ER during the holidays. According to the emergency department experts at UCSF, people tend to delay care around the holidays, ignoring subtle symptoms until things are serious. This is a big deal: heart-related deaths increase by five percent during the holiday season and fatal heart attacks peak on Christmas, the day after Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Don’t let the distractions of the holidays deter you from seeking care. One Medical Group members have access to high-quality 24/7 care every day of the year and can get treated for common issues via the Treat Me Now feature on the mobile app. Find out more at onemedical.com.

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The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

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