Holiday health risks to watch out for

Tis the season to be jolly – but hopefully it’s also the season to be safe. The Christmas holidays are a time of year when accidents do tend to happen. Partially because we’ve actually left the office desk behind for a week or two and have time on our hands. Time on our hands can mean time to get into trouble!

There are a number of accidents and incidents to be particularly aware of over the festive season – and they don’t include over eating or stress generated by the in-laws. Instead, they include the following:

Swimming accidents

The weather is warm, we’re more likely to be at the beach or beside the pool, and that can lead to an increased risk of swimming accidents. According to Water Safety New Zealand (WSNZ), drowning is consistently the third highest cause of unintentional death in the country.  In 2013, a total of 107 lives were lost in drowning incidents, with beaches and rivers the two most common locations for tragedy to occur. Oceans, rivers and home swimming pools look very tempting to our young children on a hot summer day – keep an eye on them during the bustle of the holiday season.


Sunburn can happen at any time of year and in almost any weather conditions, but over the Christmas break more of us are spending welcome time outside! As such, the risk of sunburn – and the attendant long-term impacts of skin cancer – increase. According to the Cancer Society of New Zealand, New Zealand has among the highest melanoma rates in the world.

If you don’t want to be a part of that statistic, don’t forget to slip, slop, slap and wrap.

Road accidents

Road accidents are a risk throughout the year, particularly if alcohol is thrown into the mix. In the 12 months to mid-December 2014, a total of 292 people were killed on our roads. Even one death is too many – ensure that you drive safely this holiday season.

Dangerous toys

Each year we spend millions of dollars on toys for our kids. Sometimes though, the batteries and small detachable pieces can end up in places they were never meant to be. This can result in a very unhappy child and a dash to the emergency room of the nearest hospital.

You can read more about toy safety online.

Heat exhaustion/dehydration

Christmas is exciting – there are people coming and going, meals to eat, gifts to unwrap and a lot of moving around. It can also be hot and it’s easy to forget to drink enough water. A headache, nausea, muscle cramps and dizziness can all be signs of heat stroke. Take it easy and keep up your fluids.

Alcohol-related incidents

Pretty self-explanatory – but the statistics are sobering. The Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) reports that a snapshot survey taken at a number of emergency departments (EDs) across New Zealand at 2 am on a recent Saturday morning revealed that one out of seven patients were there as a result of the harmful use of alcohol. In some areas as many as half the patients were in the ED because of alcohol. ACEM conducted the first snapshot survey in December 2013, which found that 18% of presentations to New Zealand EDs were alcohol-related.

Dr Diana Egerton-Warburton an emergency physician and lead researcher believes emergency clinicians are “sick and tired of dealing with aggressive and drunk patients in the ED”.

“These presentations could be prevented if we are prepared to act,” she said. “Frankly at times it’s more like working in a nightclub. We had a drunk man knock a doctor unconscious because he wanted a sandwich!”

So – alcohol in moderation, plenty of water, sunscreen, shade and sensible driving. Don’t forget to keep an eye on all the kids, both around water and around toys. And finally – have a merry Christmas.

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