12 Dangers of ChristmasDec 20, 2013
Each year, more than 10,000 people in the United States go to the ER for injuries related to the holidays. Without singing them out, emergency room physician Dr. Troy Madsen goes through his list of the 12 Dangers of Christmas. From decorative tree ornaments to mistletoe, Dr. Madsen talks about common holiday injuries you might already know about and a few you probably don’t.
Interviewer: You've heard the song, "The 12 Days of Christmas." Dr. Troy Madsen, emergency room physician at the University of Utah Hospital, has his own twist on it called "The 12 Dangers of Christmas." That's coming up next on The Scope.
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Interviewer: Every year, more than 10,000 people in the United States go to the ER for injuries related to the holidays. We're going to find out, not "The 12 Days of Christmas," right now, but, "The 12 Dangers of Christmas." Are you going to sing this for us, Dr. Madsen?
Dr. Madsen: You know, I thought about it, and then I thought you'd actually want people to listen to this program, so I will not sing it. I'll spare you from that.
Interviewer: All right. So, we're going to give you the 12 dangers of Christmas. We're going to bust through this faster than it would take you to listen to this song.
Dr. Madsen: That's right. Exactly.
Interviewer: All right. So, the first danger of Christmas is . . .
Dr. Madsen: The first danger of Christmas is strands of lights. You've got lights straight from trees hanging from windows. These can create a significant choking hazard, so you've got to be careful with these. And then also, of course, you could look for frays in the lights that cause electrical problems. Big danger there.
Interviewer: All right. Number two, the second danger of Christmas.
Dr. Madsen: Tree ornaments. You have very small, shiny objects. These are, a lot of times, real concerns with toddlers, young kids who are reaching up. They see something shiny. They want to put it in their mouth. It's a choking hazard. You have to be careful with those things.
Interviewer: Or sometimes they're very fragile, and they break or cut.
Dr. Madsen: Absolutely. They can break. They can cut.
Interviewer: Yeah. All right. The third danger of Christmas.
Dr. Madsen: Poisonous plants, and of these you've probably heard about poinsettias. It's a bit of a myth; Poinsettias aren't a big deal, but the ones that do cause problems are mistletoe and holly.
Dr. Madsen: And with these, it's the berries. Little kids may see berries and think, "Okay. I'll try that and put it in my mouth." It can cause a lot of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Call poison control if they do ingest that and eat that.
Interviewer: Mistletoe can also be a danger of Christmas if you get caught under the mistletoe with the wrong person.
Dr. Madsen: It can. That's a different hazard entirely.
Interviewer: The fourth danger of Christmas.
Dr. Madsen: Hot items on the stove, and these are dangers all year, but when you get lots of people together it can get a little chaotic. Kids are kind of running off on their own. Some of the worst burns I've seen, the most horrible, horrible burns are when young kids reach up and grab a pot of boiling water and pull it down on themselves accidentally.
Interviewer: And around Christmas, it can be easy to lose track.
Dr. Madsen: Easy to lose track of the kids.
Interviewer: All right. The fifth danger of Christmas.
Dr. Madsen: Candles, and this is kind of intuitive, something that we see all year long. But it seems that we always have more candles out at Christmastime. Nice smells, it just looks nice. There are fires every year, thousands of candle fires every year. Of course, the big hazard is if you put candles on a tree. I know that may look more traditional, but you've got to figure in these traditional times, they also have a lot more house fires around Christmas.
Dr. Madsen: It was for exactly that reason.
Interviewer: All right. The 12 dangers of Christmas. Danger number six.
Dr. Madsen: Danger number six is alcohol, and this is particularly with young kids. You have eggnog with some alcohol in it, maybe with some other spice or sort of tasty drinks with a little alcohol. There' s also alcohol that may be left out after a party, something you just leave out and you don't clean up and thoroughly after a party. Kids wander down in the morning and may drink some of that alcohol. That can cause very serious problems, and even a small amount for a young child can be life threatening.
Interviewer: All right. And the seventh danger of Christmas Troy Madsen brought to me.
Dr. Madsen: The seventh danger of Christmas, I won't sing it back to you. The seventh danger of Christmas is finger foods. You get nuts and popcorn sitting around. It's a big choking risk for kids. Just keep an eye on these sorts of things.
Interviewer: The eighth danger of Christmas.
Dr. Madsen: We all want a visit from Santa Claus for Christmas, but there's another visitor, a frequent Christmas visitor, that starts with an S, and that is salmonella.
Interviewer: You don't want him.
Dr. Madsen: You don't want salmonella to visit you.
Dr. Madsen: So that's food poisoning. The couple things for that, you've got raw eggs. You may have raw eggs in eggnog or in pies. There's salmonella risk there. Also cooking. If you're cooking a turkey, and that can especially be an issue if you've got stuffing in a turkey because you get this stuffing in there really tight, and it can make that area around the stuffing just not cooked thoroughly. That could lead to salmonella risk.
Interviewer: All right. And the ninth danger of Christmas?
Dr. Madsen: Batteries, and the real battery issue is button batteries, these little disc batteries.
Dr. Madsen: There's always a choking risk to any kind of battery, but the button batteries, the disc batteries you often see, those can cause burns to the esophagus and the GI tract. Those are a real problem. They're horrible, absolutely horrible. You don't realize how bad they can be.
Interviewer: So the inside of the battery can get into the kid?
Dr. Madsen: Yeah, if the kid swallows the battery. Button batteries are notorious for leaking and actually eroding through the esophagus and the GI tract.
Interviewer: I never would've guessed that. The tenth danger of Christmas.
Dr. Madsen: The fireplace, and here we're talking more about something we may have all thought about or even done, "Hey, let's just throw it in the fireplace and burn it up."
Interviewer: What's wrong with that?
Dr. Madsen: What's wrong with that? It makes sense. The big issue is flash fires. If you throw a match in there, that wrapping paper immediately ignites. It can cause flash burns on you. Also, all those light particulate sort of things can kind of drift out of the fireplace either through the chimney and lead to a house fire or into the living room and cause issues there.
Interviewer: Christmas isn't sounding so merry and bright after this.
Dr. Madsen: I know. This is the dooming. This is what you get from an ER doctor. I'm sorry.
Interviewer: The 11th danger of Christmas.
Dr. Madsen: Dangers in others' homes. You're visiting other people, especially the grandparents' house, and their homes may not be childproof. Kids may venture off into the medicine cabinets and pull out some medications. They may have access to cleaning products. These are all things you're thinking in your own house you have locked up, but be aware. And even an open purse sitting on the floor with a visitor at your home can be an issue. Kids can reach in there and find medication, lighters, and things like that, which can be potentially hazards.
Interviewer: All right. And I promise we're not going to go through these backwards.
Dr. Madsen: Yes.
Interviewer: We are finally here.
Dr. Madsen: We will not do that.
Interviewer: The 12th danger of Christmas.
Dr. Madsen: The 12th and final danger of Christmas is the centerpiece of it all, the Christmas tree.
Dr. Madsen: So if someone who was an arsonist wanted to burn down a home tried to figure out, "How would I best burn this home down?" they would probably pile up a lot of dry wood, have it reaching toward the ceiling, and put it in the living room. There is lots of stuff to burn, and they put lots of paper under it. And you've basically described the Christmas tree.
Dr. Madsen: So you have to be aware. Christmas tree fires happen every year. There are deaths every year from Christmas tree fires. Make sure your tree is watered. It's going to take about a gallon of water every day. Don't let it get dried out. Keep fire sources away from the Christmas tree, and just make sure you can keep things safe there.
Interviewer: Any final thoughts on these dangers of Christmas? You're kind of like the Danger Grinch.
Dr. Madsen: I know. I know. I feel bad, like I said we're always thinking of the worst-case scenario because we always tend to see the worst things in the ER. But I think the biggest things here are, like we talked about, fire risks and kids. Make sure you're aware of fire risks with these various things, and just keep an eye on the kids. Don't let them get lost in the chaos and the excitement of Christmas. Have a great time.
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