The 8 Reasons You're Most Likely to Visit the E.R. on Christmas
These are the most common reasons for Christmas E.R. visits, according to doctors, nurses, and other experts.
Nobody wants to spend their holiday in the E.R. But unfortunately, Christmastime is when hospital emergency rooms are especially packed. With regular doctors' offices closed and the stressful and dangerous activities the holidays bring, a slip on some ice or a misguided slice in the kitchen could send you straight to the hospital. In fact, according to an analysis by InsuranceQuotes based on data from the National Electronic Surveillance System (NEISS), there were almost 845,000 holiday-related injuries during the week of Christmas between 2006 and 2016. To know what you should be wary of in order to stay out of the hospital this December, here are some of the most common Christmas injuries and illnesses that lead to E.R. visits.
"Falls from roofs are common as Christmas decorations go up," says emergency physician Rick Pescatore, DO, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Drexel College of Medicine. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that in 2012, 34 percent of holiday-decorating incidents that resulted in a trip to the E.R. were due to falls.
While a fall might not seem like a major injury, Pescatore says it's not something that should be taken lightly. "A fall from any height can be dangerous," he says. "People die every year from not taking the proper safety precautions atop roofs."
By the time Christmas comes around, the flu virus has already been doing damage for weeks. Add holiday travel and increased socializing into the mix, and you have a recipe for a serious situation. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), during the week ending December 29, 2018, the proportion of outpatient visits for the flu increased to 4.1 percent, far above the national baseline of 2.2 percent.
For many people, the flu doesn't require hospitalization, but it can be serious for certain groups of people, like children, older people, and those with pre-existing health issues.
According to an analysis from Alcohol.org, approximately 10 percent of E.R. visits on Christmas are drug- and alcohol-related. This hardly comes as a surprise when you consider that the average American doubles their alcohol intake between Thanksgiving and New Year's, per a poll of 2,000 people sponsored by Morning Recovery.
And when you're intoxicated, you don't just have to worry about alcohol poisoning. When Alcohol.org analyzed NEISS data from 2010 through 2016, they found that everything from windows and doors to exercise equipment caused alcohol-related injuries. But specifically, fences, showers, and baths were some of the biggest offenders of alcohol-induced accidents around Christmas.
The sad truth is that heart attacks are more common during the winter season, and Christmas is a particularly concerning time. "Our bodies respond to cold temperatures by constricting vessels to preserve core body temperature," says Sanjiv Patel, MD, a cardiologist at MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. "This can lead to elevated blood pressure, which can cause more stress on the heart. Cold temperatures can also constrict heart vessels, leading to reduced blood flow to the heart."
An observational study published in the British Medical Journal in 2018 confirmed that there's a higher incidence of myocardial infarction on Christmas. In particular, Christmas Eve was found to have the highest associated heart attack risk of any holiday.
Knife lacerations are a common injury around the holidays—particularly in the kitchen. "The mandolin-induced finger avulsion, which is hard to stop bleeding at home, is extremely common around the holidays," Pescatore says.
Broken ornamental bulbs are also a big holiday hazard. The CPSC found that during the 2012 Christmas season, 11 percent of holiday-decorating incidents that led to a trip to the E.R. were due to lacerations.
Even if you manage to get through preparing for Christmas dinner without a single cut, you're not completely out of the woods yet. According to a 2016 paper written by Madeline Gilkes, CNS, RN, overeating is a common issue during the holidays. What's more, she notes that "the stress and overeating connected to the … holidays may worsen cardiac conditions." So be careful during Christmas dinner—your heart health may be on the line!
An easy way to cut any holiday celebration short is with a bad case of food poisoning. And according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), this happens all too often during the holidays, thanks to people leaving food out for too long, not washing their hands properly before they cook, or undercooking that Christmas ham. To avoid giving (or getting) food poisoning, the organization suggests putting food in the fridge within two hours of cooking it, washing your hands for at least 20 seconds, and using a thermometer when you cook.
"One of the more memorable and repetitive injuries I've seen on Christmas morning is the young kid trying out his new bike for the first time," Pescatore says. "It's a recurrent source of scratched knees and broken arms, which are readily cared for, but an important reminder of how critical it is to wear helmets!"
But it's not just kids who end up in the E.R. on Christmas. That annual Christmas family football game can result in bone breaks, sprains, and ligament tears, says Bert Mandelbaum, MD, sports medicine specialist and orthopedic surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, California. He suggests you take time to stretch before and after a game; ensure you wear warm clothing and use the proper equipment; resist the temptation to grab onto another player's clothes (if you want to keep your finger tendons intact); don't overthrow; and never drink alcohol before a game. Otherwise, you could end up in the E.R. for multiple reasons this Christmas!