Don't let accidents ruin your Christmas: Common festive mishaps and how to treat them

Burns, falls and choking can all be common at Christmas – here's what the experts recommend we do to prevent and treat minor injuries and tips on when to seek medical help writes Lisa Salmon

Knowing basic first aid and also recognising when a trip to A&E is necessary are expecially useful skills at Christmas, when pressure on emergency services can be acute

SCATTERED presents, new toys, busy kitchens and hordes of people crowded into a small space mean that as well as being chaotic fun, Christmas can be full of accidents waiting to happen.

Every December many A&E patients have to endure delays or are even diverted elsewhere due to increased demand – some caused by Christmas accidents that could have been treated at home (although, of course, there are certain scenarios that absolutely require a prompt 999 call or trip to hospital).

To help inform families, and reduce pressure on both hospitals and GPs over the festive period, St John Ambulance is encouraging people to equip themselves with the skills to help treat common festive mishaps and minor injuries at home and recognise when an urgent visit to A&E is called for.

Here are six common Christmas injuries and mishaps, with key tips from Alan Weir of St John Ambulance and GP Dr Tom York, of the doctor-on-demand app GPDQ ( on how to treat them at home if possible, and when to call in urgent help...

Broken baubles can cause painful cuts

1. Cuts and grazes: If the wound is dirty, clean it with cold running water or alcohol-free wipes and pat it dry. Raise and support the injury, and apply a sterile adhesive dressing. Obviously, it there is heavy bleeding that doesn't very quickly stop, and the cut is large and requires stitches, seek help.

2. Burns and scalds: Hold the burn under cool running water for at least 10 minutes, remove clothing or jewellery around the burn (unless it's stuck to it – in which case do not attempt to pull as you may tear skin), cover lengthways with cling film, and monitor. Seek medical advice, for example by calling NHS 111, if the burn is a bad one (and obviously, be extra cautious if infants and young children get burned and seek advice).

Beware of burns

3. Sprains and strains: Remember the 'RICE' rule. R – rest the injured area. I – apply an ice pack or frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel. C – ensure there's comfortable support and check circulation every 10 minutes. E – elevate the injured limb and rest.

4. Children's head injuries: Very minor bumps and bruises are common, but the general rule of thumb is don't take any chances. If your child suffers a head injury, you must see a doctor urgently. If the child has any loss of consciousness, vomits more than once, is difficult to console or to wake up, or is behaving abnormally (eg not walking or talking as usual), it could indicate an injury to the brain and require prompt assessment by a doctor.

5. Poisoning: We're not talking about the Christmas dinner here! There are more than 28,000 cases of children requiring treatment for poisoning per year in the UK, and Christmas brings additional dangers – such as a relative's medication lying around, youngsters eating Christmas gifts such as cosmetics, or drinking colourful alcoholic drinks.

"Keeping these things out of reach is essential," says York, "but if you witness a child ingesting something harmful, the first thing to do is to encourage them to spit it out."

St John's Ambulance is encouraging people to equip themselves with the skills to help treat common festive mishaps

If you don't see a child drinking or eating something dangerous, but notice possible poisoning symptoms – such as vomiting, agitation, difficulty breathing, seizures or drowsiness – try to find out what's been consumed, how much of it and when, but don't let getting the information delay you from seeking immediate medical assistance.

6. Choking: Festive nuts or some of that Christmas turkey can get stuck in the throat, obstructing the airway. "Stray sweets, nuts and fruit, as well as decorations, small cracker toys and plastic packaging, could find themselves within arm's reach and pose a hazard for adventurous toddlers," warns York. "Batteries can be especially problematic as aside from choking, they can also cause chemical burns in the throat when saliva creates an electrical current."

Adults and children should try to cough out whatever they're choking on. St John Ambulance says onlookers should encourage the casualty to keep coughing, and if that doesn't dislodge the obstruction, give five sharp back blows between the shoulder blade, and check their mouth each time. Or, squeeze it out by giving five abdominal thrusts and checking their mouth each time. But remember, call 999 for emergency help if the object doesn't dislodge, as choking can quickly become a medical emergency. Repeat the back blows and squeezes until help arrives.

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