Because the holidays should be filled with abundant joy, here are a few ways to safeguard the health and well-being of you and yours in the days ahead:
The tragic Oakland, Calif., warehouse-concert hall blaze that claimed at least 36 lives has provided a timely reminder: Fires remain a huge concern, and, especially as cold weather sets in and families add seasonal lighting displays, caution needs to be a watchword. Yes, building codes have improved admirably over time, and fire fighters and many inspectors do a public service that deserves a salute. But affordable housing, especially in big cities like Washington, D.C., remains in crisis shortage. This has forced many, including young people, into overcrowded, substandard housing—some as little more than squatters in dangerous, vacant, or dubious buildings. Meantime, many homeowners resort to space heaters or other devices (including turning on kitchen stoves and ovens) as temperatures fall. Or they’re putting up flashy holiday light displays or even Christmas trees with risky electricals. These excesses can overwhelm safety systems, and not every property owner does due diligence to maintain now common household alarms. The National Fire Protection Association reports that firefighters across the country in 2015 responded to more than 1.3 million blazes, which killed more than 3,200 Americans and injured almost 16,000, and caused more than $14 billion in damages. U.S. fire departments, between 2010 and 2014, responded to an estimated average of 210 home fires per year that began with Christmas trees. These blazes caused an annual average of six civilian deaths, 16 civilian injuries, and $16.2 million in direct property damage. Common sense doesn’t change: Be careful while cooking holiday feasts. Think super safety when setting up holiday displays. Reconsider if portable heaters make sense in your home. Ensure your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are working. Click here for some seasonal fire safety ideas.
Work still needs to get done. But at this time of year, shopping for gifts becomes an obsession, parties and social events burgeon, the kids’ activity calendars explode, and there are family get-togethers and obligations like no other time of the year. Who manages to sleep well at year’s end, even when offices and workplaces shutter for a seeming blink? That’s a big concern, traffic safety experts advise. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says drivers get too little sleep, and that can make them as risky on the roads as motorists who have consumed three or four alcoholic drinks. These drivers shouldn’t be behind the wheel. The foundation based its new findings on original and its previous research. It earlier had reported that 7 percent of all crashes, 13 percent of crashes that result in hospital admission, and 21 percent of fatal crashes involve driver drowsiness. But its latest work found significantly higher crash rates for drivers who usually sleep for less than five hours daily, those who have slept for less than seven hours in the past 24 hours, and drivers who have slept for one or more hours less than their usual amount of sleep in the past 24 hours. I’ve written how vehicle safety experts already are growing concerned about a new rise traffic deaths and the dangerous role that electronic devices and apps increasingly play in distracted driving. It’s a great joy of parenting younger children to stay up beyond kids’ bed times to take care of all of Santa’s secret late-night chores. But I see in my practice the huge harms that vehicles can inflict, and I hope no one is sleep-deprived, intoxicated (with holiday cheer from alcohol, marijuana and prescription medications), and not fully alert when transporting the precious cargo of loved ones to and from parties and seasonal events.
Although kids young and old may beg a lot for certain gifts this season, grown-ups hold firm: Some toys are risky if not downright dangerous. Even older kids’ wish-lists demand adult scrutiny. Let’s start with younger children and their wants: Watch out for games and toys with magnets, balloons, and small parts that can be inhaled, swallowed, or stepped on. Think carefully about anything that gets ridden, including scooters, bikes, skates, skateboards, and hover boards, and whether youngsters’ motor skills are developed enough so these are appropriate. Is protective gear required? Batteries have become more than a check-list nuisance: Adults need to exercise supervision to ensure they don’t cause harms, including by recharge over-heating, catching fire, or exploding. Extra caution may be required for imported goods, which may come from countries with lower safety standards, and certain makers already have gotten singled out for their dubious products. Before parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and other adults succumb to the social pressure of keeping kids up with their peers when it comes to electronic devices, be advised that pediatricians have issued revised guidelines about “screen time.” In brief, it matters a lot that kids’ viewing on all manner of devices is monitored, restricted, and that adults help kids grasp, contextualize, and make educational the torrent of online content. Don’t let e-tablets, smart phones, and other devices rule your house, and open up your older kids to predatory situations—unhealthy peer pressure, bullying, and worse. While it can be a challenge to manage teens on screens and keep them social and engaged, don’t ignore their hearing and some youths’ tendencies to slap on ear plugs or headphones to shut out the world. It turns out that some of these devices, though billed as safer for young ears, don’t actually protect kids from damaging volumes. Again, I’m sad to say that I see real harms that youngsters and others suffer, especially from dangerous and defective products. Keep these out of your home.
Hail, hail, the gang will all be around for the holidays, so keep them as healthy as possible. Regrettably, due to vaccination failures and the ridiculous resistance to proven preventative health measures, you and your loved ones may be dealing this season with mumps (see illustration, right), measles, whooping cough, flu, and colds. Mumps outbreaks are afflicting many college campuses, just as incidences of measles and whooping cough have affected parts of the country in recent times. If your pediatrician can see them during the holiday break, it might be a good idea to vaccinate the kids if they need the protection and haven’t gotten it. Think about the HPV vaccine, too. Adults, especially those visiting newborns, may want to get whooping cough inoculations to help protect new babies. So far, fingers crossed, the nation seems to be experiencing a mild flu year, or it hasn’t hit its full stride. Hand-washing can help protect you and yours from the flu and common colds. If your household is unlucky and some family members are ill during the holidays, keep the sick kids and grownups home and away from infecting others.