5 common holiday ER visits to avoid

By The Health News Team | December 16, 2020
Woman cutting apple on cutting board

With COVID-19 cases surging, there’s never been a more important time to stay safe, healthy and out of the ER. It’s no secret that hospital space and resources are stretched thin, and while precautions make Sharp hospitals safe for any kind of medical visit, no one wants to experience an injury or health concern during a pandemic.

Yet with the holidays upon us, ER caregivers see an inevitable increase in patients — and hope to get the word out that with a little extra caution and mindfulness, many of the most common ER visits can be avoided.

“We traditionally have seen an influx in patients over the holidays due to flu season and the fact that primary care providers’ offices are closed,” says Dr. Eric Strukel, medical director of the Sharp Grossmont Hospital Care Clinic. “But we also see an uptick in injuries as people find themselves distracted and rushed trying to decorate, shop and prepare meals for holiday gatherings.”

An inside look at common ER emergencies

Celebrating the holidays, even in a quieter way, can still bring about unanticipated emergencies. Dr. Strukel, and his fellow ER doctors and staff, often see an increase in the following injuries near the holidays:

  1. Knife cuts
    As culinary inspiration strikes, so do kitchen accidents. The incidences increase when we are rushed or distracted, so always remain mindful and focused on the sharp object in your hand. If you cut yourself, wash the wound with running water, and use direct pressure and elevation for 10 minutes to control bleeding. If the bleeding doesn’t stop, or the wound looks big enough for stitches, get the cut treated by a doctor within 6 hours.

  2. Burns
    Burns are another common injury seen during the holidays. In the kitchen, assume that all pots, pans and cooking surfaces are hot. If you do get burned, cool the area with cold water or a cold compress — do not use ice, which is too cold and can further injure the area. While cooling the area is often enough for superficial burns, a medical professional should treat larger burns or any with blisters.

  3. Falls
    From hanging lights and decorations to tripping on unseen cords or clutter, the holidays bring new opportunities to fall. Tuck extension cords away, don’t carry objects so they block your view, and always practice ladder safety. As a general rule of thumb, inability to move or bear weight on an extremity injury is a clear sign you need medical evaluation. Head injuries should be evaluated immediately in the ER for anyone on blood thinners or with symptoms such as loss of consciousness, confusion, amnesia, vomiting or severe headache.

  4. Car accidents
    In a typical holiday year, an increase in travel brings an increase in accidents. If your travel is essential this season, leave early and confirm directions and traffic conditions ahead of time so you’re not rushed or distracted checking these on your phone. Also, take extra care in busy parking lots, watching out for pedestrians and other drivers who may be less attentive or mindful.

  5. Food issues
    While overeating at the holiday table may be a seasonal rite of passage for some, those with certain health conditions should exercise caution in what, and how much, they eat. For people with conditions such as diabetes or heart failure, excessive sugar intake could lead to dangerous elevations in blood sugar, and excessive sodium intake could result in fluid retention and cause difficulty breathing.

Practicing mindfulness during the holiday season may be the last thing you’re thinking about, but taking time for yourself and to slow down can do wonders for both your mental and physical health. “You can prepare for injuries by stocking your medicine cabinet with antiseptics, ointments and bandages, but an even better strategy is to avoid injuries in the first place with a little extra attention to prevention,” Dr. Strukel says.

This year’s holiday season may feel different from years past. There’s less travel, and fewer office parties and large in-person family gatherings, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be festive.

Holiday movie watch parties on streaming platforms allow sharing favorite films with a group chat commentary. Other games, such as gingerbread house-building competitions, online holiday trivia, Pictionary and even scavenger hunts all lend themselves to the virtual environment.

’Tis the season to be creative and spread holiday cheer safely from home, and hopefully avoid a trip to the hospital. However, if you need emergency care, Sharp ERs and urgent care centers are here for you.

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