Westmead emergency boss shares tips for a safe Christmas

Westmead Hospital emergency department Dr Matthew Vukasovic.

Christmas and New Year is a special time for everyone, but it can come with its own seasonal dangers.

Westmead emergency department (ED) director Dr Matthew Vukasovic said that holidays are one of the busiest times in the ED. He named a few of the most common presentations that come around every year.

If you’d like to spend your festive season with family, and not in the hospital waiting room, keep reading.

  • Falls

“Falls constituted nearly half of all traumas during the Christmas period last year,” Matthew said.

Falling from a ladder or roof topped the chart of all fall-related injuries. Most of these cases related to house chores like cleaning gutters, or installing decorations.

“Avoid climbing if possible. If you must do it, ensure that a responsible person is holding the ladder.” Matthew said.

“It’s cheaper to pay someone to fix a leaking roof, repair a gutter, or trim a tall hedge in the long run. Assess all risk factors and consider your physical limitations before taking on a decoration project.”

  • Heatstroke injuries

What can be better than spending a day outdoors? If you are planning to head to the beach, exercise at the park, or go on a hiking adventure, remember to be sun smart. Plan ahead for your activities, keep yourself cool, stay hydrated and use sunscreen to beat the heat.

Visit the NSW Health website to read more about heat-related illnesses and what to do in case you’ve noticed worrying symptoms.

  • Alcohol intoxication and related injuries

“Alcohol consumption increases during holidays, and so do alcohol-related traumas”, said Matthew.

“Some of us enjoy having a few drinks with friends and family, but it can be easy to lose track of it. Skip a sip and have plenty of water, especially if you are outdoors.

“A significant number of falls during the festive season are alcohol-related too, so my advice would be to drink responsibly.”

  • Food poisoning

Food safety is important over this period. Every year emergency departments see outbreaks of salmonella, which are usually due to food not being prepared and stored properly.

Be vigilant with food handling – make sure no food is left out in the heat and only keep left-overs for a few days.

See NSW Health advice on food safety or Contact Healthdirect Australia on 1800 022 222 for 24/7 health advice and information. In an emergency, contact emergency services on 000.

  • Injuries from active outdoor sports

Being active outdoors is a great way to spend your holidays but it also comes with its own risks. Injuries from outdoor sports, such as skateboarding, riding scooters, bicycles and jumping on trampolines are quite common during year-end break.

“There is no particular age group for such presentations: we see children and those young at heart arriving at the emergency department each festive season,” Matthew said.

“Make sure you wear a helmet, mouthguard and other safety accessories, such as knee and wrist guards when engaging in outdoor physical activities. Watch out for traffic and stay safe”.

  • Mental Health problems

Christmas can be a stressful time for some people: financial issues, family conflicts or loneliness can spoil the festive mood. International travel restrictions may increase anxiety or depression for those, who have family overseas.  

Planning for your year-end break might help with managing expectations.

Volunteering is also a great way to spend your spare time, meet new people and help others who might be going through a difficult time.

Remember that professional help is available:

Lifeline on 13 11 14 for 24/7 crisis support

Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 for 24/7 mental health advice and information

Mental Health Line on 1800 011 511 for 24/7 mental health advice and information