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Leigh Vinocur, M.D. Headshot

Over the River and Through the Woods -- To the ER We Go?

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Thanksgiving is a time for families to gather, but hopefully not in the ER!

However, unfortunately every year with all the rushing and preparations many wind up there anyway! Here are some of the most common precautions you can take to prevent a trip to the ER this holiday.

Lacerations are the medical term for cuts. Hand injuries overall account for about 10 percent of all emergency department visits throughout the year. However, you can imagine that during Thanksgiving, with knives flying during all the preparation, these injuries are very common. It goes without saying to keep knives out of reach of young children. But even adults need to use safe knife-handling skills while dicing and slicing.

That means pay attention while chopping, and don't get distracted talking to your guests and don't look away when using a knife. It's recommended that you hold the knife in your stronger hand, cut on a flat surface, curl fingers under and away from the edge of the blade. Also don't leave a knife in a sink full of dishwater where you can't see it and turn the knifepoint upside down when loading a dishwasher. Some say sharp knives are best -- because dull knives require more pressure it makes them more likely to slip and cut you.

And knives are not the only culprit. Aunt Sue's fine chine and crystal can be dangerous after you drop it, not to mention dangerous to Aunt Sue herself after that! So use some common sense if you break something made of glass. Clean it up immediately, but not with your bare hands -- use a broom and dustpan instead. And no walking barefoot until you are sure all the tiny shards are gone!

Another very common injury seen in the ER during Thanksgiving is burns. Deep-fried turkey is often the culprit. It's important to set up your fryer outside or in the garage away from flammable materials. Use proper protective gear and gloves, and have a fire extinguisher handy. Remember, you cannot drop a frozen bird into a fryer filled with oil. The turkey needs to be completely thawed and dried off. Also remember not to pour water on grease fires, it just causes the grease to spread and splatter, increasing your risk of getting burned.

Young kids are at risk for scalding burns during this busy hectic time. Doorbells ring with guest arriving, while hot pots are simmering. This is a setup for curious little hands. Young children have thinner skin. It only takes one second of contact to cause a serious burn. Be vigilant. Never leave a child unattended in a kitchen when cooking and never leave hot liquids out. Also when cooking on the stove, use the back burners and turn pot handles inward, out of reach of small children. In fact, create a child-free zone in front of the stove during the holidays if you want them to help sit them at the kitchen table with a safe task.

Another potential hazard for the little one is grandma's house itself. Your house may be diligently baby-proofed for your small children, but grandma's house is a potential danger for them. According to the American Association of Posion Control Centers most poisonings involve everyday household items, such as cleaning products and medications. And grandma's kitchen is usually filled with these items in easily accessible places! Cleaning fluids are often brightly colored and look like fruit-punch drinks. Colored pills can look like candy to a small child. It takes just a minute of distraction for you not to notice your curious toddler had grabbed bottle and taken a swig.

If you are staying at relatives who are not accustomed to the inquisitive sticky fingers of a small child (beside diligently watching them every minute), make sure all medications and chemicals are kept in high cabinets out of children's reach. Bring a few childproof locks for lower cabinets. Also be aware of houseguest that may bring medications into your house and make sure they stored out of your children's reach, too. And remind your hosts or guest to try to avoid taking medications in front of kids who mimic adult activity during play and tell them never call medicine candy!

Alcohol during the holidays brings many to the ER with the obvious motor vehicle accidents and fatalities, but another health hazard is the overindulgence itself. Eating and drinking too much can be a deadly combination. Did you know that too much alcohol could be directly dangerous for your heart itself? Research shows that cardiac deaths peak late November through January. Holiday heart syndrome was named from alcohol binging, which can be toxic and irritate the heart, causing irregular heartbeats and irregular rhythms. Combine that with overeating fatty, high-salt meals this holiday, and you have set yourself up for a heart attack.

The other issue that makes these holiday heart attacks potentially more dangerous is denial! People feel they have so many obligations they ignore symptoms. Often we see people in the ER over the holidays presenting sicker. They forget to bring their medications on their trips and end up skipping doses of critical BP and heart medications. Moderation is the key. You can have a little bit or taste of everything, but don't overdue it. Unbuttoning your pants for a second helping might be a good indication you're eating too much. Also, pay attention to the any physical symptoms you may have. It's not always indigestion. It could be a heart attack.

Therefore, unless you want to spend Thanksgiving with me in the ER, a little common sense and an ounce or prevention go a long way!

For more on Dr. Leigh go to drleigh.com or like my page on Facebook.

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