Stay Healthy and Safe This Holiday Season: Holiday Health Hazards to Avoid

Contributed by Akeira Johnson, MD, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine

The holidays are a time to celebrate with friends and family, give thanks, and reflect. The last thing you want is to experience an illness or injury that sidelines you from the fun. But with the season, come a number of health and safety risks. Avoid these holiday health hazards so you, your family and friends can have a great holiday season!

Catching a germ

Flu and other bugs are transmitted through saliva, so smooching underneath the mistletoe could lead to an unhealthy holiday. Skip the lip lock and go for an air kiss instead. To further protect yourself from germs, wave hello at parties instead of hugging or shaking hands. Carry hand sanitizer and wash your hands before and after digging into appetizers to avoid infecting others.

Taking a fall

Thousands of people end up in emergency rooms because of decorating-related falls. Most of these accidents occur while hanging lights outside or placing ornaments atop Christmas trees. Most common injuries are cuts, bruises, and broken bones, though tumbling from a roof onto the ground, concrete, tree or fence can be fatal. To protect yourself, always use a sturdy ladder—even indoors, since climbing on chairs, desks, and other furniture can be risky. Before stepping onto a ladder, make sure it’s positioned on flat ground and that its rungs are dry. And only use it outdoors during daylight hours.

Sledding recklessly

Whizzing down a snow-covered hill may be exhilarating but each year thousands of people are treated in emergency rooms for sledding-related injuries. According to the National Safety Council, collisions or falls off the sled are typically the cause of injury. Fractures, cuts, and bruises are the most common injuries, though more serious injuries are possible. That’s why it’s smart to wear a bicycle helmet while sledding, skiing, snow tubing, or snowboarding. Avoid rocky hills and areas dotted with trees, fences, utility poles, or other obstacles and never sled head-first or lying on your back. And if the sled begins flying out of control, roll off.

Shopping till you drop

Lugging heavy bags can strain your back and joints, causing next-day pain and stiffness. Don’t be surprised if you wake up the morning after a shopping trip feeling like you can’t move. When shopping, don’t put all the bags on one arm and your keys in the opposite hand. That imbalance causes great strain on one side of your back, sometimes causing injury.

Having an allergic reaction to dirty decorations

Ornaments stored in the basement, attic or garage will likely be coated with dust and other allergens. Sorting through these decorations and dragging them from room to room could trigger sniffling, sneezing, headaches, or fatigue. Remove dust by wiping ornaments with a dry cloth, since moisture attracts dust and mold. Once the season has passed, either seal decorations in a plastic bag or store them in an airtight container, rather than in a cardboard box, which is more likely to absorb moisture.

Dealing with the “bone chilling” temperatures

With the holiday season usually comes those below freezing temperatures. Studies show that temperature drop is linked to higher risk of heart attack because of the sudden shock to your body. That’s why it’s smart to wear warm, layered clothing and to keep your home sufficiently heated. And most importantly, don’t stay outside for too long when the temperature is below freezing. Frostbite and hypothermia can set in within minutes.

Developing food poisoning

Holiday feasts call for indulgence, which can lead to more than a bulging belly. Post-meal trips to the emergency room are common during the holidays. Undercooked turkey or spoiled eggnog are the most common causes of foodborne illnesses. Turkeys should be thawed in the refrigerator, never on the kitchen counter, to prevent bacteria from festering. Don’t stuff turkeys or chickens in advance, or if you must, make sure the stuffing is loosely packed; birds packed too tightly may not cook properly. And make sure poultry, meat, dairy products, and eggnog don’t sit at room temperature for more than two hours. Use a cooler to keep food from going bad if it’s going to be exposed for more than two hours.

Going heavy on the salt

Holiday meals are often saturated with salt, which can aggravate or unmask heart problems. Salt causes water retention, so as fluid is drawn from the body into the blood, the heart’s workload increases. That can lead to symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pains, and sweating, particularly for those with heart failure and high blood pressure. Those with heart conditions should consume no more than two

grams of salt a day, and those with high blood pressure should stick to three grams or less. To lower your intake, replace table salt and high-sodium condiments like ketchup and mustard with herbs, spices, and other natural flavorings. It’s also a good idea to avoid cured and smoked meats, processed and canned foods, and salty snacks like cheese, pretzels, and nuts.

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