Are you at risk of these common holiday hazards?
The time leading up to the holidays if often described as the most wonderful time of the year. While it’s often filled with festive occasions and memorable moments, it’s also a time that comes with its own set of risks and health hazards.
So, just what makes the holiday season so potentially hazardous to our health? Dr. Shrinal Vyas, a pediatrician with Advocate Children’s Medical Group, says this time of year generally coincides with respiratory virus season, which means physicians see more cases of the flu, common cold and pneumonia in the late fall and early winter. As the weather worsens and people spend more time indoors, these viruses are more likely to spread.
“Washing your hands often, drinking fluids, eating healthy and getting good sleep will all help minimize you or your child’s risk of contracting a respiratory illness,” says Dr. Vyas. “Remember, getting a flu shot is also important.”
In addition to protecting your family from common winter illnesses, it’s important to take extra precautions inside the home during this time of year. For example, decorating for the holidays can be a joyful time, but it can be hazardous for young children if proper precautions aren’t taken.
“Decorate with your child in mind,” says Dr. Vyas. “If you have really young kids, avoid very small and intricate décor that they might mistake for food or candy and don’t hang anything that’s really large or breakable at their height level.”
Small decorations including ornaments, string light bulbs and metal hooks are easily breakable and can cut or burn small children if they try to play with them. Dr. Vyas says young children may inadvertently put small items in their mouth, such as tiny ornaments, figurines and batteries, which is a serious choking hazard. Remember to keep all these items out of their reach.
“Batteries, especially button batteries that are used in some popular toys, can pose a serious risk if kids accidentally ingest them,” says Dr. Vyas. “A child should be seen in the ER right away if this occurs.”
If you’re planning to bring holiday plants or a Christmas tree into the house, there are a few things parents need to keep in mind. Dr. Vyas says certain holiday plants, like mistletoe, can cause a stomach upset if ingested.
“Poinsettia plants can cause allergic reactions in those who have a Latex allergy,” says Dr. Sai Nimmagadda, a pediatric allergist and immunologist with Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill. “Plants and live Christmas trees can also cause some patients with asthma to have symptoms due to mold exposure. Pine trees and dusty ornaments can also trigger asthma symptoms.”
Asthmas symptoms to be on the lookout for include increased coughing and wheezing. An increase in nasal congestion, sneezing and itchy, watering eyes could be signs that your child is allergic to something in the home.
“Always make sure you have the proper medications in the house, know where they are, that they are not expired and make sure you have an ample supply, as many pharmacies are closed during the holidays,” says Dr. Nimmagadda.
With just a few precautions in place, families can enjoy a safe and fun holiday season inside the home and when playing outdoors. Follow the doctors’ tips for safely enjoying winter and holiday activities:
- Dress appropriately for the activity. If you’re heading out into the cold, bundle up with the essentials like overall cold weather gear and proper footwear that is warm and durable to help prevent slips, trips and falls. “Frostbite can happen in mere seconds if it’s cold enough, so kids and adults alike should be wearing warm coats, socks with boots or shoes, gloves, scarves and hats when the temperature starts falling,” says Dr. Vyas.
- Wear helmets. If you’re engaging in winter activities like skating, skiing or sledding, Dr. Vyas says to remember your helmet and make sure it fits your child’s head appropriately.
- Take care when handling food. Dr. Vyas says gastroenteritis, also known as the stomach flu, is common around the holidays. With many food options and treats available, it’s much easier to eat something that could cause an upset stomach. “Make sure to cook meats thoroughly, store foods at proper temperatures and don’t leave food out too long during parties,” says Dr. Vyas.
- Be aware of food allergies. Holiday treats often contain foods that could cause an allergic reaction, such as nuts. “Check all food labels carefully, as holiday treats sometimes change from the normal ingredients noted in certain food products,” says Dr. Nimmagadda. “Call your physician or go to the ER if your child is having an allergic reaction to food.”
- Make sure the activity is age appropriate. Dr. Vyas says to make sure activities are not too intense for younger children. She says when outdoors, it’s also important to supervise all children, even the older ones, because weather and environmental conditions can change quickly.
- Buy age-appropriate toys. If gift giving is part of your holiday tradition, Dr. Vyas encourages parents, friends and family members to give age-appropriate toys. “Always buy age-appropriate toys so that batteries and small choking hazards are not dangers you have to deal with,” says. Dr. Vyas.
- Avoid frozen lakes and ponds. While it might be tempting to lace up your skates or venture out onto a frozen body of water, don’t. “Avoid frozen lakes and ponds, as the ice can easily break even if it looks frozen over,” says Dr. Vyas.
- Take breaks. Remember to take breaks when spending time outdoors this winter. Give yourself a chance to head inside to warm up or give your muscles a break if you’re doing a rigorous outdoor activity like skiing.
- Stay hydrated. Remember to drink plenty of water while spending time outdoors this winter. “Being active outdoors in cold weather can be just as dehydrating for the body as exercising outside in warm temperatures,” says Dr. Vyas.
- Watch the road. This is a busy time of year, with more people on the roads and in parking lots. Always watch for pedestrians and oncoming traffic. Inclement weather can cause slick road conditions, and Dr. Vyas stresses that all family members need to be wearing seatbelts and children need to be in age-appropriate car seats every time they hit the road.
About the Author
Colette A. Harris, health enews contributor, is the public affairs and marketing coordinator at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Il. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and has nearly a decade of experience writing about health and wellness, which are her passions. When she’s not writing, you can find her practicing yoga, cooking, reading, or traveling.