7 Holiday Health Hazards to Avoid

PHOTO: Be aware of certain hazards during the holiday season.
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The holidays can be holly and jolly -- but also potentially hazardous to your health. Keep yourself and your family safe and healthy this season by avoiding these seven seasonal dangers.

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7 Holiday Health Hazards

PHOTO: Each year, 33,000 people visit the emergency room due to sledding accidents.
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Seasonal Accidents

Ah, the thrill of flying down a hill on a sheet of plastic. It's all good until someone fractures an arm or slams into a tree. As the Center for Injury Research and Policy of the Research Institute found, sledding leads to more than 20,000 accidents a year. That's a lot of injuries considering most kids only sled during the few weeks they're on holiday break.

Hanging festive decorations are another seasonal activity fraught with danger. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 17,000 people each year take tumbles off ladders and shaky chairs while hanging lights and wreathes.

7 Holiday Health Hazards

PHOTO: Holidays are the deadliest time of the year for road accidents.
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Car Accidents

As more than 95 million Americans take road trips to friends and family for the holidays, the American Automobile Association estimates nearly 27,900 motorists and passengers will be seriously injured in holiday season auto accidents and more than 250 will be killed.

Increased traffic and icy roads certainly contribute to the spike in holiday road fatalities. But more than 40 percent of the road deaths that occur around the holidays involve drivers imbibing too much good cheer before climbing behind the wheel. During last year's holiday season alone, 830 lives were lost in drunk driving crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

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7 Holiday Health Hazards

PHOTO: Holiday weight gain often remains on your waistline.
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Weight Gain

With so much eggnog and Figgie pudding consumed, you'd think the average person blimps up at least two clothing sizes between Thanksgiving and New Year's.

Actually, average holiday weight gain is only about a pound, according to a recent New England Journal of Medicine study, though if you're already overweight you're more likely to gain 5 or more pounds.

The damage doesn't sound too bad until you consider most people never shed the extra weight. After a few decades, the slow pile up of pounds can lead to obesity and its accompanying health risks.

Recommended: 15 Ways to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

7 Holiday Health Hazards

PHOTO: Excess drinking, overeating and stress can lead to a heart attack.
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Holiday Heart Syndrome

Holiday binge eating isn't your only over-consumption worry. Binge drinking can also lead to "holiday heart syndrome," a condition characterized by abnormal heart rhythms. Eventually, this can lead to stroke and death.

As Dr. Curtis Rimmerman, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, told ABCNews.com last year, "Your heart is basically beating very erratically, chaotically, and extremely fast." His patients have described the feeling, "like having a Mexican jumping bean inside your chest."

One arrhythmia, called atrial fibrillation, happens when the upper heart chambers quiver, allowing blood to pool inside the heart. Over time, the blood can clot, and the clot, traveling through blood vessels to the brain, can cause a stroke.

7 Holiday Health Hazards

PHOTO: Food preparation is important for avoiding food borne illness.
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Food Poisoning

Another food pitfall: Food poisoning. Food-borne bugs are responsible for about 76 million illnesses annually, 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

During the holidays the big culprits are improperly cooked and handled poultry, stuffing cooked inside the bird, and food that's been left out too long. Many holiday foods also contain risky ingredients like raw eggs, mayo and unwashed veggies.

The Food Safety Inspection Service recommends follow these four core practices for proper food handling. Clean your hands and surfaces often. Separate raw meat from other ingredients to avoid cross-contamination. Cook everything to the proper temperature. And refrigerate all foods promptly.

Recommended: 8 Tips to Avoid Food-borne Illness

7 Holiday Health Hazards

PHOTO: Be aware of certain hazards during the holiday season.
Getty Images
Fire

Each year, Christmas trees are responsible for an average of 230 home fires, the National Fire Protection Association reports. These fires cause an average of 6 deaths, 22 injuries and $18.3 million in property damage annually.

Avoid having your Christmas tree go up in flames by choosing one with fresh, green needles and placing it at least 3 feet away from all heat sources, the association advised. Keep the tree well hydrated, replace worn wires and broken lights, and power down all holiday electrics when there's no one home.

Never light your tree with candles. Even better, forgo candles completely. The association said that the December holidays are also the peak season for fires started by candles.

7 Holiday Health Hazards

PHOTO: Ingesting seasonal plants and tinsel can make your pet really sick.
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Pet Pitfalls

Even if your pooch begs for a taste of turkey, it's best to resist. Rich, fatty and fried foods can make your pet ill, warns the American Veterinary Medical Association. There's also the risk of a bone splintering and rupturing internal organs. Fido should avoid anything with chocolate, which can over-stimulate his nervous system, and any sugar-free baked treats containing xylitol, which can cause a serious drop in blood pressure. Alcohol is another big pet no-no.

Holiday plants pose a real risk to both cats and dogs. Poinsettias and Christmas cactus may cause a mild allergic reaction, but Mistletoe and holly can be deadly. Keep pets away from tinsel and ribbons. These festive decorations can cause choking or a life threatening intestinal blockage if swallowed.

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