The winter chill is in the air, the holiday rush is here, and the spread of food is being prepared to fill our stomachs and our souls. Amidst the cheer and excitement, there are risks to be aware of when it comes to the holiday season. Explained below, are dangers and hazards that can be encountered, and can even be prevented if caution is taken. The main ones can be remembered as ‘Holiday heart attack, and ‘the three F’s’ (falls, fires, and frostbite); I have also added ‘driving accidents’ and ‘emotional stress.’

1. Cardiovascular events: There are 5 % more heart related deaths during the holiday season than any other time of the year. In fact, out of any day of the year, they are highest on December 25th, second highest on the 26th and third highest on the 1st of January. The combination of stressors, fat and sodium-laden foods, and alcoholic beverages can cause problems especially for someone with other risk factors for heart disease or stroke (history of an event, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, family history, obesity and sedentary lifestyle, tobacco user). It is extremely important for those who need medication, to continue to take it every day of the year no matter how busy it gets. Adequate stress relief is important especially once the holiday stir begins. An important way to accomplish this is regular exercise, which serves two purposes. Reasonable portion consumption at meals, and not overindulging in alcohol can help reduce the risk of an event.

2. Falls: The winter season can bring temperatures that are very extreme, including snow and ice. Conditions can create a perfect environment for falls, especially in older or frail individuals. Of course, it seems prudent to clean those driveways and sidewalks, but safety is more important. Avoiding these conditions are probably smartest until it becomes a bit safer. Hopefully, close family or neighbors can provide assistance to those who are elderly or may not be in adequate physical shape. It is not worth a fall, broken hip, or an even worse scenario. For those who decorate, conditions should also be safe, before placing those holiday lights at extreme heights, and cleaning gutters to clear for decorations.

3. Fires: Fires can serve as a real hazard at this time of year. Electrical fires are a risk especially with all the lights and Christmas trees in homes; trees should always be sturdy and not located near any heat sources such as radiators, electrical outlets, and space heaters. Electrical outlets should never be overloaded. If real candles are used as decoration, they should always be placed away from trees and other hazards, and should never be left unattended. Caution should be exercised when operating fireplaces, especially when smaller children and pets are around. A reasonable distance should be kept from them when they are lit. Smoke detectors should be located in every room of the home, and in working order.

4. Frost bite: Using common sense is important, when it comes to avoiding extreme temperatures. Being aware of the local weather forecast before venturing outdoors, is always important. Initially affected by cold, are the fingers, toes, nose and ears, and they should all be covered well. The head holds heat in the most, so wearing a hat may become important; And at worst case, it may be necessary to seek shelter indoors for a period of relief if possible. While traveling during the season, keeping a blanket in the car may come in handy in the case of being stranded without warmth.

5. Driving accidents: Living in the northeast, winter weather can make driving challenging. Safe driving is especially important if traveling is necessary, and avoiding the roads altogether if the conditions are extreme. Unfortunately, on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, drunk driving incidents are at their highest. It may be prudent to assign a responsible designated driver for traveling on those nights if needed.

*Lastly, Let’s not forget, the usual stress and anxiety that comes with the holidays. The rush can get a bit overwhelming when attempting to get things all completed in a timely manner. It is important to time manage well, as well as even creating a budget to reduce financial strain. It is important to be aware of others. If friends and family seem unreasonably stressed, take time with them. Show support to those who are susceptible to this type of stress or even the winter blues.
Hopefully, these potential hazards/problems can all be avoided, and the holiday season can be the most wonderful time of the year.

Heather Kasper PA-C
Bentz, Grob, Scheri, and Woodburn, Family Medicine