Beware of 'Halloween hand' and other scary holiday-related injuries

Hey, moms, if you value your fingers, be careful as you carve up the household jack-o’-lantern. One slip of the knife, and you could wind up in the hospital with “Halloween hand.”

During October and November 2013, more than half of the estimated 4,400 Halloween-related injuries involved pumpkin carving, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported.

The injuries ranged from minor cuts to major lacerations across the palm that sever tendons, nerves, and blood vessels, said Asif M. Ilyas, a hand surgeon at the Rothman Institute. Ilyas sees several Halloween injuries a year, including knives that go “through and through,” sticking out of the hand, and even amputated fingers.

“It can be pretty bloody and messy,” Ilyas said, adding that the hand is highly vascular and that patients were often shocked by the amount of blood from their injuries. “Even a small cut can bleed a lot.”

It is often the nondominant hand — the one without the knife — that is injured, Ilyas said. “It’s like bagel injuries, except they are using much bigger knives.”

The typical Halloween-hand patient tends to be a mother who is helping her kids carve up a pumpkin. Less common but still related to the holiday are the injuries to hands and limbs that happen when firecrackers for pyrotechnic displays blow up. Those patients tend to be male, Ilyas said.

A 2010 study from the journal Pediatrics found that finger and hand wounds accounted for 17.6 percent of all injuries on Halloween among children under 19. One-third of those injuries resulted in lacerations; one-fifth were fractures. Children ages 10 to 14 suffered 30 percent of the injuries.

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons  (AAOS) warns against using kitchen knives to do your carving. But are pumpkin-carving kits safer?

In 2004, researchers at Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, N.Y., used cadaver hands to study the dangers of pumpkin carving. They found that specific pumpkin-carving tools were, indeed safer, than sharp kitchen knives.

Safety tips for carving pumpkins include:

  • Always carve the pumpkins in a clean, dry, well-lighted area.
  • Look for softer, riper pumpkins that are easier to cut.
  • Make sure there is no moisture on the tools or on your hands.
  • Enlist kids to help scrape out the seeds, and let them use a marker to help create the design. But let only adults wield the knife.
  • Use pumpkin-decoration kits specially designed for carving.
  • Don’t mix alcohol and pumpkin carving.

If you injure yourself while carving, immediately put pressure on the wound, and use gauze bandages to wrap the wound tight to control bleeding, Ilyas said.

With severe injuries, such as severed tendons, recovery can take three-plus months, he said.

Aside from “Halloween hand,” said AAOS spokesman Kevin G. Shea, leg injuries are common  due to falls caused by long costumes or costumes that impair vision.