WASHINGTON, DC — Nobody wants to spend the holiday season in the emergency room. But, the nation’s emergency physicians will be there when you need them anytime.
“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 Paul Kivela, MD, MBA, FACEP, President, American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). “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, particularly at altitude. 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 check-ups. Pinning an annual check-up 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 Dr. 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 and, 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 to 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, is a condition that 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 Dr. 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.”
ACEP is the national medical specialty society representing emergency medicine. ACEP is committed to advancing emergency care through continuing education, research and public education. Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, ACEP has 53 chapters representing each state, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. A Government Services Chapter represents emergency physicians employed by military branches and other government agencies.