Why Emergency Rooms are More Crowded during the Holidays

According to a 2017 Business Insider article, for emergency rooms in New York City, doctors estimated they saw an increase in patient volume by 5-12% during the holiday season[i]. While this estimate applied to Thanksgiving, the same kind of spike occurs around Christmas as well as other holidays. So, what gives? Are there more injuries around holidays or is something else going on?

A number of factors appear to be affecting the volume of patients being seen in emergency rooms during holidays. First, the occurrence of influenza, as well as sicknesses with flu-like symptoms, is at its highest during the Thanksgiving and Christmas periods. So, while these types of ER visits are not specifically holiday related, the increase in patient visits due to flu and other respiratory illnesses increases the total volume of all ER visits.

Nevertheless, many other causes specifically connected to celebratory holidays also increases the number of patient visits to the ER. These cases arise when patients take a relaxed attitude during the holidays. When individuals feel festive, they may abandon their diets, disrupt regular eating habits, fail to follow their doctor’s treatment instructions, lose sleep or disrupt normal sleep patterns, or fail to take medications correctly. Any of these situations may lead to a visit to the emergency room. Also, holiday stress often results in more cases of anxiety attacks, breathing difficulties, and afib episodes.

There are other factors as well. During the holidays, there are often celebrations and parties resulting in overindulgence in alcohol or other stimulants. In one emergency room, doctors reported that cases seen early in the evenings were associated with flu and normal emergency situations while later in the evening, there was an increase in the number of incidents related to overindulgence of alcohol. These late evening cases included alcohol poisoning, broken bones from slips and falls, and accidents, both traffic and in-home.

One study examining reasons people sought emergency room services during holiday seasons and published by the National Institute of Health included the following data comparing types of cases that, (1) increased during the holiday period, and (2) those that appeared to be unaffected by the holidays[ii]. An overview of the results is presented below.

  1. ER Case Types with No Apparent Impact from Holidays
  • Hypertension
  • COPD
  • Diabetes
  • Assaults, and
  • Upper Respiratory Infections
  1. ER Case Types with an Increase during Holiday Periods
  • Slips and Falls
  • Sharp Object Injuries
  • Falls from Height
  • Workplace Accidents
  • Abdominal Pain and Diarrhea
  • Psychiatric Disorders, and
  • Poisonings

It can be seen from these lists, that increased visits to the ER’s during holidays are due to individuals abandoning their dietary routines, skipping medications or altering medication schedules, failing to get enough sleep, stress, and overindulging in alcohol. On the other hand, those cases with little increase in holiday visits were longer term and more serious conditions, not necessarily affected by the holiday routines and celebrations.

As the holidays approach, it is important to be mindful of what and why individuals might seek emergency medical attention. Over this holiday season, you can avoid many of the incidents that have been shown to result in ER visits by sticking to your medication and dietary routines and, if you drink alcohol, to drink in moderation. Nevertheless, at any time should you suffer a fall, sustain a cut requiring stitches, or need to recover from overdrinking; the Emergency Hospital System ER’s are open and able to handle your situation. We have staff on hand 24/7/365 to make sure you receive the finest medical attention possible. We welcome walk-ins, or you can call ahead for an appointment. We wish you the happiest of holidays and are here to help you enjoy the merriest and safest holiday possible. Call today, 281-592-5400.

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