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Healthy Monday: Take care, because holiday traditions can be painful

POSTED: December 29, 2008 5:00 a.m.

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The holidays may be the most wonderful time of the year, but they also can be a disaster waiting to happen.

Because people do things at Christmas time that are not part of their normal routine, they may be putting themselves at risk for injury.

Dr. Mohak Davé, an emergency physician at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, ends up treating holiday casualties every year.

"We see a lot of people who’ve fallen off ladders, either while they’re stringing up lights outside or while they’re putting up the Christmas tree inside," he said.

Anyone using a ladder, Davé said, should have a partner to hold the ladder steady and assist with tasks. But some people simply should not be on a ladder, especially older people who have balance problems.

"Make sure you understand your own physical limitations," he said. "Elderly people have greater severity of injuries from falls. Your recovery time and degree of fracture is worse if you’re 75 than if you’re 20."

People also are at risk for electrical shocks and burns while putting up lights.

"That’s pretty common during the holidays," said Davé. "It’s important to use electrical cords and cables that are rated for the outdoors."

Cooking and baking are major holiday traditions, and even people who barely set foot inside a kitchen most of the year may attempt to prepare an ambitious menu. This can lead to a variety of injuries involving hot stoves and ovens.

Davé said he’s seen people suffer splash burns as they tried to deep-fry a turkey in a vat of grease.

Katie French, spokeswoman for Safe Kids Georgia at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, said letting children help with holiday baking can be a wholesome family activity.

"But they need to be supervised at all times," she said. "Remember to do things like turning pot handles toward the stove, so a child can’t knock it over."

The biggest threat to children younger than 3 is ingestion of things they shouldn’t be putting in their mouths.

"This time of year, toy safety is big on our radar. We want to make sure parents buy toys that are age-appropriate," said French. "If a toy or a piece of a toy can fit inside a toilet-paper roll, it is small enough to be swallowed and may be a choking hazard."

Parents buying gifts for toddlers should look for age guidelines on the package and avoid any that say "For ages 3 and up."

But toys aren’t the only potential threat. Davé said preschool children will ingest just about anything, and shiny objects seem especially tempting.

"We’ve had cases where little kids have eaten glass Christmas ornaments," he said. "Also, there are usually a lot of batteries lying around for Christmas toys. Those can be very dangerous for young children and have to be removed (if swallowed, because they can corrode inside the stomach)."

French said even parents who have made sure their home is "child-proof" tend to forget about safety during the holidays.

"It’s important to talk to children about not touching the Christmas tree," she said. "Keep candles out of reach and don’t leave them unattended (when lit). And don’t leave small candies or alcoholic beverages sitting around on the coffee table."

Many people visit friends or relatives during the holidays, and they may be staying in homes that aren’t child-proof.

"If you’re visiting someone else’s house, your children should always be supervised," said French. "You might even want to bring baby gates with you. And make sure the grandparents’ medications are secured."

Adults also can become ill from ingesting things, but in their case, it’s just too much rich holiday food.

"This time of year, we do see an increase in gastrointestinal distress, as well as upper abdominal discomfort that may feel like chest pain," said Davé. "So we have to assess them for heart disease. Often it turns out to be just heartburn, but you don’t want to miss a possible heart attack."

After Christmas, parents will want to make sure nobody gets injured while trying out their new presents.

"If you give kids riding toys such as bikes or skateboards, you need to also give them the safety equipment, such as helmets and knee pads," said French.

But even with protective gear, Safe Kids does not recommend buying all-terrain vehicles for children.

"Even the smaller ATVs are not safe," said French.

Many children in rural Northeast Georgia put ATVs on their wish lists to Santa, along with requests for a pellet gun or BB gun.

But French doesn’t recommend those, either.

"We feel guns of any kind are not appropriate for children under 14," she said. "It’s important for kids to have fun and enjoy life, but you want them to be safe."



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