UC HEALTH LINE: Don't Let the Ouch Steal the Holidays


—Tearing through a package to get to the gift has traditionally been part and parcel of the holiday experience. Getting to the actual gift, however, is becoming more difficult—and dangerous.

Once you’re through the decorative paper, there are often layers of protective plastic to tackle. But think twice before grabbing the scissors, a knife, a letter opener or any other sharp object for assistance.


“We’re seeing stab wounds to the palm of the hand trying to drive something through the plastic, or lacerations of the fingers, sprained fingers and scrapes where they’ve scraped off the skin,” says Alexander Trott, MD, professor of emergency medicine at the University of Cincinnati (UC) and author of the textbook, Wounds and Lacerations: Emergency Care and Closure.


It seems that in an attempt to make packaging more secure—for shipping purposes and to deter  theft—manufacturers may have created a potential hazard, if not a frustration. And the peskiest packaging perhaps belongs to the “clamshell”: a combination of hard plastic and epoxy that form-fits to products such as electronics.


According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, about 6,000 Americans annually turn up in emergency rooms with injuries incurred while trying to pry, stab or cut open their purchases.


“Injury is more likely to occur when there are more packages to open such as with Christmas and Hanukkah, but regular, everyday-use items also come in some kind of plastic,” says Trott.


Regardless of the cause, even a small cut is no small matter.


“Small cuts can be entry points for this nasty new germ called MRSA”:  methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus , a bacteriumresponsible for difficult-to-treat infections in humans, he says.


While MRSA (often referred to as mersa) is typically known to flourish in locker rooms, jails or other living conditions with close quarters, Trott says, “the reality is that we’ve found it can occur in individuals outside of these conditions, in even the smallest cuts.”  


What to do then if you slice, stab or jab yourself trying to open that new video game or electric razor? According to Trott, a trip to the emergency room is warranted if:


  • The wound is deep enough to see white or fatty tissue sticking out.

  • Bleeding won’t stop after more than 10 minutes of continuous pressure.

  • There is any loss of function.   


Outside of these parameters, surface or small cuts should be cleaned with soap and water and dried thoroughly. You may also want to use an antibacterial ointment, he says.


“But you still need to be very careful.”  


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