How to Avoid the Top 8 Holiday Health Hazards

Don’t let holiday activities and stress put a damper on your spirit this time of year—learn how to prevent eight common holiday health risks.

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The weather is turning colder, and the holiday season is heating up. We don’t want to sound like the Grinch, but even innocent activities this time of year—like cooking, decorating and shopping ’til you drop—can lead to injuries, elevated stress and other cheer-zapping health problems. We asked doctors around the country about the top holiday health risks and how to avoid them.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

Stress overload

2 / 8 Stress overload

Family gatherings, gift giving, a tight budget and a packed calendar are all part of the season, but may cause some serious stress. “The effect of stress on people’s health is something we see often,” says Natalie Shum, MD, Medical Director of Emergency Medical Services at West Hills Hospital in California. Add in heightened tension with family and friends, or conversely, loneliness, which can feel worse this time of year—and you have a recipe for anxiety and depression.

The best remedy? Stay active, Shum says. “Exercising will keep the weight off and blood pressure down.” Above all, squeeze in time for you, she adds. “You can’t give to others if you aren’t taking care of yourself.”

Spikes in chronic disease

3 / 8 Spikes in chronic disease

If you’re living with high blood pressure, kidney disease, diabetes or other chronic health issues, your symptoms may increase around the holidays. “We see a lot of chronic conditions such as elevated blood pressure and increased heart rate this time of year,” says Shum. Most people aren’t exercising, and they’re more relaxed about their diets, which can spell trouble if you have diabetes or kidney disease. Stick to your exercise and eating routines as best you can, and if you do get out of sync, try to get back on track quickly.

House fires

4 / 8 House fires

Christmas trees, candles and a cozy fire in the fireplace may add to the holiday glow, but they pose real dangers. “Christmas trees can explode and burn up in 10 seconds," says Matt Young, MD, Director of Pediatrics for the Grossman Burn Center in West Hills, California. If you have a live tree, water it regularly and dispose of it properly. And don’t be fooled: Fake trees can be fire hazards, too, especially if they’re dusty. Holiday lights can wear and fray, so replace them each year as needed. Above all, use common sense: Make sure smoke detectors work properly, keep candles out of reach from kids and pets and use space heaters with caution.

Football fouls

5 / 8 Football fouls

Backyard football is a fun way to round out the holidays, but a few too many drinks and an uneven playing field could mean someone’s uncle gets sidelined with a sprained ankle—or worse. In fact, fractures, tears, sprains and concussions are all too common this time of year.

“You have guys who may not have been participating in any sort of regular physical activity now playing a contact sport,” says Donald Ozumba, MD, of OSSM Orthopedics in McKinney, Texas. “There’s a high risk of injury, whether they’re playing touch, flag or tackle football.”

Avoid injury by taking some time to stretch and warm up, says Dr. Ozumba. “It’s also about really knowing your limits. We have to remember that we’re not Tony Romo out there.”

Scalds and burns

6 / 8 Scalds and burns

“The kitchen is the most dangerous place for children around the holidays,” Young says. “In the ER, we see a spike in scald burns, especially with children.” Keep young children out of the kitchen and supervise older kids, he says. Also, avoid using tablecloths, as kids can pull them off and send hot dishes tumbling.

More tips: Always test a dish’s temperature before serving, and don’t place hot pots to cool within a child’s reach. Finally, consider setting up a cooking station so kids can help with safe activities, like mixing and measuring.

Car accidents

7 / 8 Car accidents

It’s not just the inclement weather that heightens the risk for trouble on the road. All of the partying during the holiday season can lead to car accidents caused by drunk driving. “Probably the worst thing we see in the ER is trauma from drunk driving,” says Shum.

Have fun celebrating, but be safe: Always have a designated driver or arrange for a cab or Uber.

Too much alcohol

8 / 8 Too much alcohol

Drunk driving isn’t the only alcohol-related issue you have to worry about; too much drinking can lead to sometimes fatal consequences, especially “in younger people who don’t understand how much their body can tolerate,” Shum says. “Risks involved with alcohol poisoning are very serious.”

Her advice: Use the buddy system at parties so that you and your friends can monitor each other, watch for warning signs of alcohol poisoning, like confusion, vomiting or irregular breathing and stop anyone who’s had too much from getting behind the wheel.

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