Three-time Olympian Kara Winger was growing increasingly frustrated as she was carving a pumpkin for Halloween. Unable to get the top off her pumpkin, she started to wedge a sharp paring knife and a dull serrated knife into holes she had previously made, applying inward and upward pressure to try to pry the top off.

She started to realize that this method wasn’t working, and released the dull knife from her right hand, but her left hand—with the sharper knife—was still applying pressure into the pumpkin. In a split second, the sharp knife came shooting through the pumpkin and into the palm of her right hand, severing the palmar cutaneous branch of her median nerve.

Such pumpkin carving injuries to the hand, similarly to those from avocado cutting, can be pretty common.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimated in a 2021 report that around 3,600 Halloween-related injuries were treated in U.S. emergency departments within the past three years, nearly half of which were pumpkin carving injuries.

“Every Halloween season we see four or five patients—both adults and children—who come into our office with severe injuries to their hands and fingers,” says Jeffrey Wint, MD, a member of the American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH) from the Hand Center of Western Massachusetts.

Here are five pumpkin carving safety tips to avoid hand lacerations during the Halloween season:

    1. Use a Soft Pumpkin

After picking your pumpkin, let it sit outside for a few days to allow the skin to soften. A softer pumpkin requires less force to carve, which will minimize your risk of pumpkin carving injuries.

    1. Carve Your Pumpkin in a Dry and Well-Lit Area

Make sure all the tools you plan to use have been washed and dried thoroughly, including any knifes, the cutting surface itself and your hands. Any moisture on these surfaces can cause slipping that can lead to injuries. Additionally, it is important to frequently dry off your hands, cutting surface and knife with a towel as they will become covered in pumpkin juices as you are carving.

    1. Carve Your Pumpkin with the Top on for More Stability

Hold the top of the pumpkin and cut with the knife’s blade facing downward. Make sure to carve slowly and steadily and cut away from your exposed hand. This will prevent you from sticking your hand inside the pumpkin for stability and accidentally cutting your hand while doing so.

    1. Use Pumpkin Carving Kit Tools Rather Than a Sharp Kitchen Knife

Sharp kitchen knives can easily become stuck in the pumpkin and can be difficult to pull back out, which increases your risk of slipping and accidentally cutting yourself. Instead, use the small, serrated pumpkin saw that is typically found in carving kits as these are specially designed for safety, and their small size makes them easier to control than knives.

    1. Apply Pressure to Areas of Injury

If you do end up cutting yourself, apply pressure with a cloth or towel and keep the injury site elevated above your heart. If the bleeding continues after 15 minutes, go to an emergency room or urgent-care clinic.

How Common are Pumpkin Carving Injuries?

Being mindful of pumpkin carving safety precautions is critical as Halloween approaches, as there was an estimated 20,579 pumpkin carving injuries from 2012 to 2021, according to a 2022 report published in The American Journal of Emergency Medicine.

Johnson et al.  found that the incidence of such injuries has remained stable, with a decreasing trend over time after analyzing all pumpkin carving injury data from The National Electronic Injury Surveillance System between 2012 and 2021.

The authors found:

    • Pumpkin-related knife injuries are more frequent on Sundays (23%) and Saturdays (16%).
    • 46% of cases occur the last week of October, with the highest incidence of injuries occurring on October 30th
    • Women aged 10 to 19 were the most common demographic group injured (31%), while 50 to 59-year-olds were the least common age group injured (4.9%).
    • 97% of wounds from pumpkin carving injuries were lacerations.
    • The most common site of injury was the hand (88%).

While the study authors note that their study only included patients that went to the emergency room for their injury,  the actual national incidence of pumpkin-related knife injuries may actually be higher. Many patients may choose to self-treat or seek help from other providers such as hand surgeons, urgent care clinic providers or primary care physicians.

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