Hanukkah Hazards: The Dark Side of the Festival of Lights

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Donuts are great fun - until they're not (illustrative).Credit: Dreamstime

Who hasn’t cut their fingers grating potatoes for latkes? Or gotten hot oil splattered on themselves while dumping batter for these typical holiday pancakes into a sizzling frying pan? And who hasn’t burned their fingers or hands lighting a Hanukkah menorah?

These are just some of the minor injuries typically associated with the Festival of Lights – a time of year when sharp blades, hot skillets and matches are in overtime use.

But here’s a new addition to the list of Hanukkah-related health hazards: choking. To be specific, choking on sufganiyot – those delicious deep-fried Hanukkah donuts filled with jam and other goodies.

Emergency medical workers reported quite a few cases of Israelis requiring first-aid and even hospitalization this week after getting pieces of a sufganiya stuck in their windpipes.

According to Magen David Adom, the national emergency and ambulance service, in one case, a 75-year-old woman from Pardes Hannah was rushed to the hospital after she stopped breathing and lost consciousness when she was unable to swallow or cough up a piece of donut lodged in her throat.

In another incident, an 87-year-old man from Be'er Sheva was resuscitated by paramedics in his home and subsequently taken to the hospital in critical condition after the same thing happened to him.

In yet another cases paramedics used a Heimlich maneuver on a 60-year-old Tel Aviv woman who choked on a piece of donut. When that failed, they put her under anesthesia and extracted the morsel with a special device. The patient was taken in critical condition to the hospital.

Last year, MDA reports, its paramedics dealt with only one such incident: A 70-year-old man got a large piece of sufganiya caught in his throat while attending a holiday party at work in Tirat Carmel, outside Haifa. The emergency service's staff guided his colleagues over the phone in administering basic first aid until they showed up and were able to extract the chunk of donut.

An MDA spokesman said that the elderly, children and individuals with swallowing difficulties are at particular risk of choking and need to be especially cautious when eating sufganiyot. “They should make sure to take small bites and to chew well,” he advised. “Large pieces of sufganiya can get caught and cause partial or total blockage of the windpipe.”

The emergency organization also reported several incidents of injuries caused by Hanukkah candles over the past week. In one case, three young girls from Petah Tikvah suffered from smoke inhalation in a fire caused by a menorah in their first-floor apartment. In another incident, also in Petah Tikvah, a 29-year-old man had to be treated for light burns on his neck and chest after his beard caught fire while lighting holiday candles in his synagogue.

Dr. Josef Haik, director of the burn unit at Sheba Medical Center, said that most burn injuries on Hanukkah do not require hospitalization and are treated at local clinics and first-aid centers.

“Fire is something that really attracts children, which is why it’s important to keep the lit candles and matches out of their way,” he said.

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