Does a full moon mean higher emergency department volumes?

By Joben Rieth, RN, BS, MBA
Director of Emergency Services, Methodist Dallas Medical Center

Does a full moon mean higher emergency department (ED) volumes? Will more women really go into labor? Halloween conjures up thoughts of black cats, werewolves, and other superstitions, so that begs the question, “What’s fact and what’s fiction when it comes to health?”

ED nurses will tell you that patient volume goes up during the full moon. This year, the full moon falls on Monday, October 29, a night sure to be filled with parties, tricks, and treats. In labor and delivery, clinicians say it’s busier the day before, day of, and day after the full moon. There is no conclusive evidence to support these observations, but here’s what we do know about the full moon and other medical myths.

Tale: ED visits increase during holidays.
Fact: On Halloween, the ED sees an increase in finger and hand injuries, cuts, and broken bones in children. For adults, alcohol is often involved. Alcohol impairs balance and judgment, so driving while intoxicated isn’t the only issue. Using power tools under the influence, decorating, climbing on ladders, and a host of other activities can become more dangerous when alcohol is in the mix.

Tale: Seizures are brought on by a full moon.
Fact: Researchers at the University of Patras Medical School in Greece studied 859 patients treated for seizures and found a “significant clustering of seizures” around the time of a full moon. They aren’t sure why, but what we do know is that there seems to be a link with riskier behavior and a full moon on a weekend. Do we change our staffing in the ED when there’s a full moon? No. We staff according to historic statistics, which show that Sunday and Monday are traditionally busier in the ED than other days of the week.

Tale: An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
Fact: While some experts say the only way an apple will keep a doctor away is if you throw it at him or her, several recent studies have suggested that the high levels of phenolics contained in apples work as a potent antioxidant that can reduce the risk of breast and colon cancer. In addition, a recent study from researchers at Ithaca, New York–based Cornell University suggests that apples may also stave off Alzheimer’s disease.

Tale: Feed a cold, starve a fever.
Fact: Regardless of your illness, the bottom line is that your body needs energy in order to overcome the illness. Your best bet if you’re feeling under the weather? Stay home, drink plenty of fluids, and eat your normal, nutritionally sound diet.

As for staying out of the ED this Halloween and throughout the fall season, here are some tips for you and your family:
  1. Don’t eat any candy without sealed wrappers. You can’t guarantee safety or good hygiene with unwrapped items.
  2. Make sure costumes are reflective for safety when crossing streets.
  3. If you want to paint your face, be sure to read the label to ensure the product is safe for face application.
  4. If you’re going into neighborhoods you aren’t familiar with, be careful. Go in pairs with adults.
  5. Also, remember that this is the season for Halloween, tailgating parties, fairs, and fun. If you choose to drink an alcoholic beverage, be responsible and get a designated driver.

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