Safety in numbers
Not all of the hazards usually associated with the holidays revolve around eating or decorating. Shopping can be a pain in the pocketbook as well as in other ways. Keep a close eye on all credit or debit cards you use when shopping and avoid carrying large amounts of cash. Dress casually and comfortably when you go out, avoid wearing expensive jewelry and shop during daylight hours whenever possible. Keep your car doors and windows locked, even when you’re driving, and place all valuables and purchases out of sight. Avoid carrying large packages and bags and don’t leave them unattended at any time. Carry the day’s most expensive purchases closest to your body, and don’t carry so much that you could lose the ability to react quickly. When possible, have purchases delivered instead of taking them with you; many businesses offer free delivery during the holiday shopping season. And shop with friends and relatives, there’s safety in numbers.
Cold weather tends to dramatically reduce the number of outdoor allergens that cause problems for allergy and asthma sufferers, but that doesn’t mean the holidays are always a reason to breathe easier. Evergreen trees often carry microscopic mold spores that reproduce when brought indoors, causing allergy symptoms. If you purchase a natural Christmas tree, allow the tree to dry out on an enclosed porch or garage before bringing it indoors. You also may want to explore whether your tree retailer provides a shaking machine, which will physically remove some allergens from the tree. When spraying artificial snow on windows or other surfaces, be sure to follow the directions carefully as these sprays can irritate your lungs if you inhaled. And when cooking for the holidays, take care to consider food allergies. Homemade items can be contaminated with trace amounts of allergenic foods through contact with storage containers, baking sheets and utensils.
A colorless, odorless gas, carbon monoxide is made when fuels such as wood, oil, natural gas and propane burn improperly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 41 percent of reported cases of CO exposure occur during the winter. Increased use of home heating systems, exposure to car exhaust by those stranded during blizzards, use of gasoline-powered generators after winter storms, and indoor use of kerosene stoves and other types of space heaters contribute to these increased poisonings during the winter months. Some of the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include a dull headache, dizziness, nausea and chest pain. To reduce the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning, never run a portable generator indoors and place carbon monoxide detectors close to all sleeping areas. All gas appliances, such as a water heater, should be installed by professionals and checked annually for possible leaks.
Don’t get shocked
The holidays bring out the best in some people, but they can also be electrifying for others. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, hospital emergency rooms treat nearly 13,000 people each year for injuries related to holiday decorating, including falls and electrical shocks. When it comes to decorative lighting, follow manufacturer’s guidelines for stringing light sets together. As a general rule, never use more than three standard-size sets of lights together. Hang or mount light strands carefully to avoid damaging the cord’s insulation. Do not overload extension cords or electrical receptacles and unplug all holiday lights when you go to sleep or leave home. Inspect holiday lights and extension cords before using them and replace any that are fraying or damaged. When using a ladder, keep your body centered and gauge your safety by your belt buckle. If your buckle passes beyond the ladder rail, you are overreaching and at risk for falling.
Peril for pets
The holidays bring precious memories but they also bring certain perils for your pets. Although the sight of your cat pawing at the tree may be cute, eating tinsel can be deadly. Swallowing tinsel or other string-like items such as ribbon can cause serious damage to a dog or cat’s intestine. Both indoor and outdoor lights should be carefully examined to ensure safety for your household pets. Electrical shock may occur from defective cords as well as from pets chewing on cords. If you add chemicals to the water meant to keep your Christmas tree fresh longer, be sure to read the label to make sure it is safe for pets. Potpourri makes your house smell festive but may be another attraction for pets to drink. Make sure that potpourri pots are covered or otherwise inaccessible to pets. And as tempting as it may be to feed your pet a piece of holiday chocolate, DON’T. Chocolate contains theobromine, a compound that can be toxic and even fatal if ingested by a dog or cat.
Trusted by thousands of listeners every week, T. Glenn Pait, M.D., began offering expert advice as the host of UAMS’ “Here’s to Your Health” program in 1996. Dr. Pait began working at UAMS in 1994 and has been practicing medicine for over 20 years.