Emergencies on the rise: 10 common holiday injuries that keep emergency rooms busy

By Stephanie Srakocic | Fact-checked by Jessica Wrubel
Published December 15, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Emergency rooms see an increase in visits for food poisoning, alcohol poisoning, heart attacks, and more over the holidays.

  • Injuries such as cuts, broken bones, muscle strains, and burns can occur during holiday decorating and celebration.

It’s no secret that the holidays are a busy time of the year. Shops, restaurants, bakeries, airports, delivery services, and many other businesses all see an increase in visitors each December. Emergency rooms have a similar increase.

In fact, a few injuries are relatively unique to this time of year, such as cuts from broken ornaments or falls while stinging Christmas lights.[] 

“Holidays are an interesting time in the ER. It does get quite busy,” says emergency physician Dr. Adam Foster, MD. “People are more active, so we see a lot of musculoskeletal injuries. Anyone can fall with outdoor activities or decorating, but especially older people. And then, we have people who are preparing food for the holidays, and they’ll often cut or injure themselves doing that.”

With that in mind, here’s a closer look at the 10 most common holiday-related trips to the emergency room.

  1. Alcohol poisoning

For many people, the holidays can mean parties, events, and gatherings that include alcohol. It’s been reported that the average American adult doubles their typical alcohol consumption between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.[]

Additionally, people drink a lot on New Year’s Eve, with an average of 4.4 drinks on that day. Thanksgiving and the winter holidays also make the top drinks per day list, with averages between 2.7 and 3.1 drinks. This sharp increase in drinking also tends to increase alcohol poisoning.[] 

  1. Food poisoning

It’s common for food to sit out all day at holiday parties and gatherings. These festive tables are a great way to ensure guests always get a plate, no matter when they arrive, but unfortunately, that increases the potential for bacteria to grow and dishes to spoil, leading to food poisoning. The risk of food poisoning can be higher for older adults and others with weakened immune systems.[]

  1. Cuts acquired during holiday preparation

From wrapping presents to carving turkeys, the holidays see people reaching for knives and scissors more often than they typically would. As a result, more people experience cuts and puncture wounds at home this time of year. Sometimes, this is the result of knives or scissors that aren’t sharp enough for the task, but it’s also common for people to get these injuries while in a hurry or distracted. Plus, knives and scissors aren’t the only culprits. Broken ornaments and holiday lights can also lead to cuts and wounds, especially when stepped on.[] 

  1. Injuries from falls that occur while decorating

The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that approximately 160 people injure themselves each day during the holiday season in decoration accidents. Over 40% of these accidents are from falls. It’s common for these falls to lead to broken bones, pulled muscles, internal bleeding, and concussions.[] 

  1. Muscle strain from heavy lifting

The holidays can have people’s hands and arms full. Heavy lifting from grocery bags, packages, luggage, Christmas trees, and more can lead to muscle strain, pulled muscles, and pinched nerves. 

  1. Burns from holiday decoration-caused fires

Holiday decorations are a key part of celebrating the season for many people, but they can also be fire hazards. For instance, statistics show that 22% of all candle fires happen in December and January. Beyond candles, light-up decorations, dry pine needles, and artificial Christmas trees can all potentially increase the risk of fire. When decorations are plugged into overloaded electrical sockets or left on overnight, that risk can increase.[] 

  1. Eye injuries from corks

Popping corks might seem like a harmless celebratory activity, but it’s not uncommon for it to result in injury. A flying champagne cork can travel as fast as 50 mph when it leaves a bottle. That can turn it into a dangerous projectile, one strong enough to break glass and cause injuries. It can result in corneal abrasions and other serious eye injuries.[] 

  1. Injuries from car accidents

The risk of car accidents also increases over the holidays. Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that there are around 1,000 road fatalities in the US each year between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Alcohol is a factor in many, but not all, of these crashes. Increased travel and fatigue are also factors.[][] 

  1. Injuries caused by toys

Emergency rooms nationwide see over 150,00 toy-related injuries over the holiday season. These injuries are most common in children under 15. Sometimes, injuries occur after falls from toys such as scooters, trampolines, or athletic equipment. Injuries might also happen when motorized or electronic toys malfunction or children accidentally swallow small parts and pieces of toys. Additionally, toys containing lead and other hazardous materials can find their way to store shelves and online retailers before the danger is spotted.[][]  

  1. Heart attacks 

There are more heart attack deaths on December 25th than on any other day of the year. December 26th and January 1 come in second and third on the highest heart attack fatalities per day list. While an exact reason for this hasn’t been pinpointed, several factors seem likely to play a role. Drinking increases during the holidays, and people also tend to eat meals that are higher in fat and calories and might eat this way several times a week. Additionally, the holidays can be stressful, whether it’s family, financial, or the simple stress of a busier schedule. Either way, it’s not uncommon for people to pay less attention to their health and to skip steps such as taking their medications or moderating their food intake.[]

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