What you didn't know about the Holiday Season. A Brief on Holiday Morbidity and Mortality


Author: Matt Klein, MD

Citation: [Peer-Reviewed, Web Publication] Klein M (2016, December 22).What You Didn't Know About The Holiday Season: A Brief On Holiday Morbidity & Mortality [NUEM Blog]. Retrieved from http://www.nuemblog.com/blog/holidazed

Santa Claus and his elves aren’t the only ones preparing for a busy holiday season. Emergency departments across the country are bracing for an influx of casualties as the most wonderful, and possibly the most dangerous, time of the year is underway.

According to an analysis of US death certificates from 1979 to 2004, more deaths occur in, or on arrival to, the ER on Christmas and New Years than on any other day. Beyond mortality, a review of the literature reveals a not-so-heavenly host of hazards threatening to maim Yuletide revelers.

Deck the Halls

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation features family man Clark W. Griswold hanging from his gutter while trimming hearth and home, and he’s not alone in holiday mishaps.

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that holiday decorations send an estimated 15,000 injured people – roughly 240 a day during the peak – to local hospitals during the Christmas season.

In a series of patients with holiday-related fractures, one third were injured while putting up decorations, and twice as many fell while attempting to reach an attic.

Among patients presenting to a Level I trauma center with injuries sustained while installing Christmas lights, 30 percent required surgery and more than 10 percent were transferred to a rehab or long-term care facility.

O Christmas Tree

Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree may just need a little love, but it might also require a wide berth.

The National Electronic Injury Surveillance System – a treasure trove of data on what consumer products send their users to the ER – contains records on hundreds of victims of Christmas trees and their decorations.

A 12-year-old sustained second-degree burns after a power socket exploded while plugging in a string of lights, for example, while a three year-old required medical care to remove a piece of a Christmas light bulb shoved up his nose. Surgical case reports describe pediatric tracheostomy and right lower lobectomy following ingestions of decorations.

You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out

Everyone from the school teacher to a department store Santa warns A Christmas Story’s Ralphie that his coveted Red Ryder BB gun will lead him to shooting his eye out, and with good reason.

Holiday ocular trauma, including scratched corneas from gift tags and eyes poked by Christmas tree branches, is commonly reported by ophthalmologists. According to a study from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the face is the most commonly injured body part in children visiting the ER on Christmas.

Assault-related facial trauma, including broken bones and soft tissue injuries, are significantly higher at Christmas than an average non-holiday week of the year. Not surprisingly, the authors of this UK study noted that alcohol played a role in many of the cases.

Blue Christmas

Clarence the angel may never have received his wings in It’s a Wonderful Life without George Bailey’s drunken suicide attempt, but what role does an excess of holiday spirits play in self-destructive behavior?

Australian hospitals see a significant spike in intoxicated patients on the last working day before Christmas, while Finland experiences a peak in fatal alcohol poisonings around the holiday.

In the United States, a review of the National Poison Database System found that suspected intentional exposures were significantly less common on Christmas day, and multiple other studies show a decrease in suicide on December 25th.

The Holly and the Ivy

In 2010, poison centers fielded 750 calls related to poinsettia exposures, but danger of the decorative plant is grossly overstated. The urban myth stems from the unconfirmed death of a two year-old child nearly a century ago. In a review of nearly 23,000 poinsettia exposures published in 1996, zero fatalities were reported.

If you’re intent on finding a sinister Christmas plant, ingestion of holly berries and mistletoe can lead to gastrointestinal symptoms, but they’re rarely dangerous.

Reindeer Games

There are no reported cases of reindeer-induced trauma, let alone grandmothers getting run over by Santa’s favorite mode of transportation. However it may be a good idea to skip the holiday petting zoo. Myiasis, or infection with fly larva, has been described in children as the result of coming in contact with reindeer; two of whom developed ophthalmomyiasis, with one child losing vision in the affected eye.

How can you keep Christmas a time of peace and goodwill? Be careful decorating for the holiday. Keep ornaments out of the reach (and mouths) of children. Drink alcohol in moderation.

Here’s hoping your stockings are hung by the chimney with care, and without a call to 911.  


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Posted on December 22, 2016 .