When you think about the holidays, you’re probably visualising warm, cozy, safe days and nights spend with family and friends. Unfortunately, sometimes illness and injury gets in they way of us enjoying the season with our loved ones. Driving under the influence is probably the most obvious and feared holiday season danger, but you should also be aware of these three health hazards that can ruin your holiday.
1. Muscle strain, back aches and other injuries. Putting up all those lights and trimmings is hard work! Not only do you risk injury from falls, but you can also hurt your back and strain your muscles from all the lifting, bending and reaching.
Even if you’re not doing the heavy work, be aware that seemingly innocuous activities like baking, gift-wrapping and making crafts can cause repetitive stress injuries and strain your back.
Here are some ways to keep from injuring yourself:
- Lift with your knees, not your back.
- Don’t try to carry too much at once. Take two or more trips rather than overload yourself
- Use sturdy ladders instead of chairs and tables.
- Take frequent breaks.
- Listen to your body!
2. Allergy flare ups from Christmas trees, dusty decorations, scented products and travel. Christmas trees and decorations can be a nightmare for those who suffer from dust and mold allergies. Visiting friends and family members with pets or a fondness for scented sprays and candles can also cause a lot of suffering. Do continue to take any medication recommended by your physician. You can also try these tips to help prevent major allergic reactions and complications from asthma, sinusitis and bronchitis:
- If you must unpack and hang decorations yourself, wear a facial mask and immediately change clothes and shower afterward.
- Vacuum every day with a HEPA filter equipped machine and use an indoor air purifier in rooms with Christmas trees to remove mold, dust and any pollens or animal dander trapped in the needles and bark.
- Bring your own dust mite proof mattress and pillow covers if you travel away from home.
- When traveling, ask for a smoke and pet free hotel room. If you are staying with loved ones with pets, ask them to if it is possible for them to keep their pet out of the room where you’ll be sleeping.
- When it comes time to pack decorations, dust them off or wipe with a damp cloth and store them in a safe, dry place in dust-proof containers.
- Stay well rested and relax as much as possible. Stress can exacerbate allergies and leave you more vulnerable to asthma attacks and infections.
3. Driving while drowsy to make the most of your travel time. Even conscientious drivers who would never dream of driving drunk make the mistake of driving when they are too tired to do so safely. This increases during the holiday season, because of long distance travel and late-night social obligations. Even moderately tired drivers can have reaction times and accuracy rates that are as poor as those who have been drinking. The NHTSA says that over-tired driver are responsible for around 100,000 accidents each year resulting in 1,550 deaths and numerous injuries. Here are a few things to remember to avoid becoming one of these statistics:
- Plan on getting a good night’s sleep before going on a long road trip. Avoid excess drinking so that you are at your most alert.
- Driving during your normal sleep times should be avoided. If you must drive through the night, do so with a partner who will also stay awake and alert with you the entire time.
- Take frequent breaks.
- If you start to feel tired, pull over as soon as it is safe to do so.
- Consider taking taxis or other public transportation after a late night out.
Beyond these three hazards, you should also be aware that all of the fun and excitement of the holidays can also bring about stress, poor sleep habits, too much of the wrong foods and drinking to excess. These habits can leave you more vulnerable to illness and leave you feeling down and depressed when the holidays end. Do have fun and indulge a bit, but also be mindful that you’ll enjoy yourself more, long-term, if you take good care of yourself by getting plenty of rest, eating a mostly healthy diet and not over-scheduling yourself.
About Bobby Schwartz:
After graduating with a Ph.D. in Medicine, Schwartz went on to specialize in allergy and immunology as well as diagnostic laboratory immunology through a fellowship. He is a member of a number of distinguished national professional associations and medical societies, and has written about allergies extensively for daily newspapers as well as monthly magazines.