Special thanks to Aisha Sultan of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for co-authoring this list.
Given that the holiday season is upon us, I wanted to share from my years in the ER how to keep our families healthy and safe. These are my top 10 reasons why children end up in the ER this time of year — and how to prevent these unwanted trips to the hospital.
10. Depression, anxiety and suicide
Sadly, the holidays for many are not very merry. Teens are especially at risk for depression, anxiety and suicide. I see many of these patients in the ER. Their stories are complex and devastating. The good news is that teens have a good likelihood of full recovery from mental illness with appropriate treatment. Read my article Stressed and depressed: How American teens are hurting themselves, and what parents can do to reverse the trend.
9. Drunk teens
Parents like to drink during the holidays, and teens often follow our example. When teens are off school and left home alone while parents are at work, they often break into the family liquor cabinet. Snow days and school holidays are prime time for teens to get into trouble with alcohol, and with alcohol comes all the other risky behaviors, including sex, drugs, drinking and driving, etc. We see a growing number of teens who think that marijuana is not dangerous. Driving under the influence of marijuana is a real risk. Ever wonder when you should start talking to your kids about drinking? I write about that here. My colleague, child psychologist Dr. Jeffrey Rothweiler, also writes about the dangers of social hosting.
8. Allergic reactions
Food allergies are common during the holidays when people may eat party food that has hidden ingredients. For example, a lot of holiday foods contain hidden nuts. Here’s some additional food for thought on food allergies from a MomDoc.
7. Swallowed stuff
I see all kinds of interesting stuff on x-rays– tree ornaments, LED bulbs, money; swallowed magnets and batteries can be especially dangerous.
Toxic poisonings from lead, pthalates, and other chemicals found in gifts intended for children are a serious health issue during the holidays. Most of these issues don’t present to the ER, because they are not emergencies.
6. Stomach flu
Gastroenteritis, better known as the “stomach flu” is a viral syndrome with vomiting and/or diarrhea. It is common in the winter time, and is very contagious. One trip to the ER and we can give you nausea medication and IV fluids if needed to put a stop to all the vomiting. Here’s some advice from fellow MomDoc Dr. Kirstin Lee about how to treat the stomach flu.
5. Dog bites
Even the friendliest dogs can bite children — especially toddlers –when they are provoked. Holidays are a time when people with young children are guests in homes with unfamiliar dogs. Add in the sugar and excitement, and the dogs can bite. There is nothing like a toddler with a dog bite to the face to put the brakes on your holiday fun. Having a dog can help and hurt your child. Check out this article on the pros and cons of pet ownership.
4. Head bumps from excited play
Every shift I work, I see kids who bumped their heads badly from rough play or running around too fast inside the house. Lots of sugar and exciting parties when kids stay up late are prime time for toddlers to fall down stairs, run into corners, or jump on beds and hit their heads on the bed frame or night stand. Not sure if that goose egg warrants a trip to the ER? Dr. Kelly Ross offers some advice in this article.
3. ATV accidents
These are some of the worst ER cases. Many children are dead or near-dead when they arrive, or have severe head injuries. Riding an ATV made Dr. LeGrande Rives’ list of six things a dad pediatrician won’t let his kids do.
2. Lacerations from opening boxes and packaging with knives
You know all that kid-proof packaging that is pretty much adult-proof, too? Kids and grown-ups alike often wind up in the ER with lacerations from opening packaging with kitchen knives. The good news is that the field of pediatrics has new and better ways to minimize pain and improve cosmetic outcome of skin wound treatments. Read more in my article on skin glue and stitches.
Holidays are a time for friends and families to gather, and people can be very reluctant to cancel Christmas at Grandma’s or a holiday music concert just because one child has a cold. And so the germs spread. Here are my seven tricks to avoid getting sick this holiday season.
Click here to see a slideshow of the top 10 reasons children end up in the ER during the holidays on stltoday.com.