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Avoid Holiday Health Hazards

Avoid Holiday Health Hazards

Keep your holidays merry and bright, and most importantly safe by taking some simple precautions. The most common holiday hazards and tips to prevent them include:

  • Food poisoning. Undercooked or contaminated food, improperly stored food, or even poisonous berries on holiday decorations can cause food poisoning. Be diligent about food preparation safety, err on the side of caution and keep decorations out of reach of small children and pets.
  • Colds and flu. Planes, trains and holiday gatherings mean more germs. Stress and fatigue can also lower your resistance to fighting those germs so get enough sleep, exercise regularly, focus on healthy eating, and wash your hands frequently to help ward off illness. If you do get sick, stay home and avoid spreading it to others.
  • Electric shock. Holiday lights and extension cords can be highly dangerous. Use appropriate light bulbs, do not insert more than three plugs of lights into one extension cord, and do not run cords under any rug.
  • Snow sports-related injuries. Skiing, snowboarding and sledding accidents are especially common during the holidays. Reduce the risk of injuries by wearing appropriate protective gear and dressing for the weather. Do not attempt activities out of your skill range, obey all mountain rules, and be mindful and courteous to those around you.
  • Burns from fires. Holiday decorations and Christmas trees cause nearly 1,000 fires every year. Open fireplaces are great for ambiance, but can also cause many injuries. Avoid leaving lights on for too long and overexerting electrical sockets. Make sure to place grates or screens in front of open fireplaces. Never leave a fire, flame, or oven unattended. Always have a fire extinguisher on hand.
  • Driving accidents. Traveling to see family, icy conditions and drunk driving can all combine to make the holiday season one of the worst times of the year for traffic accidents. Make sure your car is well-maintained before beginning a trip. Never drive after having more than one drink in an hour. If you are fatigued, pull over and take a break. Drive slower and pay attention to roads that require snow tires or chains.
  • Falls. In 2016, the most common decorating-related inquiry was a fall and more than 6,000 Americans required medical attention for falling while decorating their homes. Never put up decorations alone, or when the weather is bad. Test the stability of your ladder. Never use furniture, porch railings, or anything not meant to be stood on to hang decorations.


No matter how careful you are, injuries or illness can still occur. Always seek immediate medical attention if in doubt about the severity. El Camino Hospital has emergency care services in Los Gatos and Mountain View and ER wait times are available online.

This article first appeared in the November 2013 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter and was updated on December 2018.