Nobody wants to spend a holiday in the emergency room.
“There is typically an uptick of visits to the ER during the holidays related to flu, pneumonia, falls or hypothermia, particularly among children and seniors,” said Dr. Paul Kivela, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians. “A little bit of planning and preparation can help you avoid spending the most wonderful time of the year in the ER.”
Prepare for cold weather
The chill in the air can add to health risks whether you are inside or outside. If you are enjoying an outdoor activity or playing in the snow it is important to dress appropriately for the weather and monitor the amount of time spent outside. Early signs of frostbite include numbness or burning, or cold skin that turns hard and pale.
Hypothermia or dehydration risks increase the longer you spend exposed to the elements. If you are driving, make sure your car is equipped with a full emergency kit that includes a warm blanket, roadside flares and other necessities.
For those who stay inside more frequently in inclement weather, check to make sure smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are working properly. Respiratory issues are among the leading causes of winter ER visits. While a normal cough or cold is likely better addressed by a primary care physician, if an illness comes with complications, such as difficulty breathing, it could be appropriate to go to the emergency room.
Get a flu shot
Experts note that this flu season could be particularly severe and say that a flu vaccine is the best way to reduce your risk of getting sick. Vaccines are important and so are annual checkups. Pinning an annual checkup to a calendar event such as a holiday or birthday is an easy way to make it part of your health routine.
Beyond winter weather, preventable accidents or health emergencies can happen during holiday preparation and celebration, too.
Indulge in moderation
Rich holiday meals and snacks are delicious but typically are high in salt, sugar, cholesterol or fat content. Too much of any festive food or drink can complicate existing health conditions, like diabetes. Eating slowly is one way to avoid choking, and it is important to make smart choices such as monitoring or limiting your alcohol intake.
“One important safety tip is pretty simple and could save your life — don’t drink and drive,” said Kivela. “Arrange for a designated driver in advance or call a taxi. Far too many accidents happen when people are inebriated and decide to get behind the wheel.”
Go slowly, go safely
Accidents and back injuries are common around the holidays from lifting heavy objects and decorations to injuries from hanging lights or slipping on ice. Around 2.8 million people go to the ER annually from falls.
Among seniors, falling is the leading cause of injury. Slow down to avoid slipping or falling in snow, ice or wet conditions.
Make a schedule
Tackle your holiday shopping, entertaining, commuting or other tasks methodically and avoid the last-minute holiday scramble.
“Holiday heart,” cardiac issues that arise in otherwise healthy individuals, can arise from the added pressures of holiday duties. Planning, entertaining, family stress or any number of factors can contribute to emergency visits relating to depression or anxiety seen around this time of year.
“To reduce your risk, reduce your stress,” said Kivela. “One of the best gifts you can give yourself this holiday season is to commit to taking better care of your physical and mental health all year round.”