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Health: Stay safe while decking the halls this holiday season

by on December 02, 2019 2:02 PM

’Tis the season for decorating and gathering with family and friends to celebrate the holidays. Unfortunately, it’s also the season for an increased number of home fires and accidents around the house that can ruin an otherwise festive time of year. Many of these mishaps that result in injury or worse could have been prevented with increased awareness and a little planning.

Although obvious after the fact, most common hazards around the home during the holiday season are hiding in plain sight. Keep in mind the following activities and areas where most accidents happen, take the recommended precautions, and enjoy your holidays at home with your family instead of in the emergency department with a doctor.

From Thanksgiving to New Year’s, we see a significant increase in emergency department visits related to holiday decorating and celebrations. These injuries happen quickly; one minute you’re standing on a ladder hanging lights; the next thing you know, you’re waking up in a hospital bed.

Decorations and candles

Holiday decoration fires result in an average of eight deaths and 54 injuries per year in the United States and cause an estimated $19.1 million in property damage. Candles start more than half of all decoration fires, followed by faulty holiday lights.

To avoid a potential fire from decorations and candles, always turn off your holiday lights when you leave the house and never leave a lit candle unattended. Make sure that you’re using the right lights, too: Lights made to be used indoors should never be used outside, since rain and snow can damage them and create an electrical fire.

The Christmas tree

Christmas trees are another common cause of holiday injuries. The longer Christmas trees remain inside, they dry out and become perfect kindling for a fire. Always place Christmas trees away from heat sources like heaters, vents, and fireplaces, and make sure they never block an exit. Water them daily to keep them from drying out. Turn off lights on the tree when you leave the house or go to bed.

Burns and the related infections that accompany them are some of the most difficult injuries we see. Beyond burns, smoke inhalation from fires can create permanent lung injuries and breathing difficulties.

Extension cords 

Every year, extension cords are responsible for more than 4,000 accidents that result in a trip to the emergency room. During the holiday season, these cords are located in atypical places throughout the home, making them easy to miss. Half of the injuries are fractures, lacerations, contusions, or sprains, and many involve children under the age of 5.

Keep extension cords away from walkways and out of the reach of children. If you can’t avoid pathways, wrap them in electrical tape and tape them down. However, you should never tuck them under a rug, since this can create a fire hazard.

Most accidents involving ladders during the holiday season are suffered by men between the ages of 20 and 49. If you’re outside decorating the house with lights, always work in pairs so that someone is available to hold the ladder. Keep the ladder on level ground for stability. Also, keep the area around the ladder clear; in case you do fall, you won’t hit a sharp object.

In many cases, taking a few extra moments to think about safety while you’re decorating goes a long way toward preventing injuries. However, accidents are inevitable, so keep emergency numbers nearby and call 911 if you need immediate assistance.


Dr. Trevor Smith is  family practice physician at Geisinger Gray's Woods.


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