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Pumpkin Carving Safety Tips

The tradition of carving pumpkins to celebrate the Halloween holiday dates back thousands of years and has long been a fun activity for families. Unfortunately, Halloween is one of the top three holidays that produces the most emergency room visits each year, with hand and finger injuries from pumpkin carving accounting for the greatest proportion. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, half of those injured in pumpkin carving incidents in the past three years have been children.

“Treatment for severe hand or finger injuries can often include surgery followed by three to four months of rehabilitation therapy,” said orthopedic surgeon Jeffery C. Wint, M.D., a consulting physician at Shriners Children’s New England who specializes in hand and upper extremity issues. To avoid this nightmare, Dr. Wint recommends observing the following safety tips to prevent injury:

Doctor Wint with pumpkins

Carve at a Clean, Dry, Well-lit Area

Wash and thoroughly dry all of the tools that you will use to carve the pumpkin: carving tools, knife, cutting surface and your hands. Any moisture on your tools, hands or table can cause slipping that can lead to injuries.

Leave the Carving to Adults

Never let children do the carving. Dr. Wint suggests letting kids draw a pattern on the pumpkin and have them be responsible for cleaning out the inside pulp and seeds. “All too often we see adolescent patients with injuries because adults feel the kids are responsible enough to be left on their own. Even though the carving may be going great, it only takes a second for an injury to occur.”

When the adults do start cutting, they should always use proper technique and cut away from themselves using small, controlled strokes.

Sharper is Not Better

“A sharper knife is not necessarily better because it often becomes wedged in the thicker part of the pumpkin, requiring force to remove it,” said Dr. Wint. “An injury can occur if your hand is in the wrong place when the knife finally dislodges from the thick skin of the pumpkin. Injuries are also sustained when the knife slips and comes out the other side of the pumpkin where your hand may be holding it steady.”

Use a Pumpkin Carving Kit

Special pumpkin carving kits are safe and equally fun, and are available in most stores. These kits include small serrated pumpkin saws that work better because they are less likely to get stuck in the thick pumpkin tissue. “If they do get jammed and then wedged free, they are not sharp enough to cause a deep, penetrating cut,” said Dr. Wint.

Dr. Wint advised, “Should you cut your finger or hand, bleeding from minor cuts will often stop on their own by applying direct pressure to the wound with a clean cloth. If continuous pressure does not slow or stop the bleeding after 15 minutes, an emergency room visit may be required. Loss of finger motion or numbness may indicate a more severe injury that needs follow-up care, including surgery.”

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