- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2009

They choke. They sprain something. They forget to visit the restroom or attempt to open a beer bottle - with their teeth.

The Super Bowl has become such an intense, all-encompassing experience for the TV viewing public that fans are at risk of serious harm, right there in the family room. The couch can be a perilous place.

“I’ve seen a number of injuries, some fatal, occur on Super Bowl Sunday because people often pay more attention to the game than to their health and safety,” said Dr. Jeff Kalina, associate director of emergency medicine at the Methodist Hospital in Houston.

“The ER is usually busy after the game, and we expect it to be no different this Sunday,” he added.

Dr. Kalina has tended many memorable injuries among the distracted and enthusiastic. Fans choke on chicken bones. They leap to their feet at some pivotal moment - only to injure their backs. There are myriad stomach ailments from alcohol and junk food, and yes, a very drunk man once lost his teeth to a bottle, Dr. Kalina said.

And for some determined fans, “urinary retention” becomes a problem. They drink plenty, then put off a bathroom visit, resulting in a condition where the bladder gets so full that “muscles are not strong enough to generate a stream,” the physician noted.

“During most sporting events people will get up and use the restroom during the commercials and not have any problem,” Dr. Kalina said. “However, most of the time the commercials are the best part of the Super Bowl, so we have seen people who have to come in and have a catheter put in to relieve themselves.”

Does the Super Bowl prompt domestic violence against women? Researchers have debated whether violence increases during the big game ever since a 1993 report from a California legal center cited typical increases of 40 percent - prompting the press to coin the term “Abuse Bowl.”

By analyzing police reports in 14 cities, a 2005 report from Indiana University found otherwise: There was actually more violence during holidays like Christmas or Valentine’s Days than during the Super Bowl.

Dr. Kalina is not so convinced.

“There is a lot of testosterone flying around during the Super Bowl. You mix that with alcohol and underlying relationship problems and you have a recipe for disaster,” he said.

Some men do get agitated. One fan was so despondent after his team lost that he threw his television out the window of his third-floor apartment.

“Luckily, no one was on the street below,” Dr. Kalina said.

“People have to remember that the Super Bowl is just a game,” he added. “Don’t drink too much, don’t eat too much, and get up and go to the bathroom.”

And don’t yell too much, either. Fans have also been known to damage their vocal cords in the heat of the moment.

“Yelling and screaming during the game can cause temporary and perhaps permanent changes to your vocal cords,” said Jackie Gartner-Schmidt, associate director of the Voice Center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center,

Vocal cords can bleed - literally - she said. The big-mouthed fans in question also could pull one of the miniature neck muscles used to speak. Both conditions usually require medical treatment.

“If you can’t help but cheer, try not to strain your voice. Make a ‘whoa’ sound,” Ms. Gartner-Schmidt added. “Never scream. The only time you should scream is if you’re in serious danger.”

Yet for all the warnings, there’s a mental benefit to be had from the Super Bowl experience, according to a study from the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, also on the Pittsburgh campus.

“Fans can experience vicariously the struggle and drama of overcoming great obstacles. Win or lose, fans get to feel a joy in connecting and being a part of something larger than themselves,” the research said.

Indeed, there are some who suggest the Super Bowl is a G-rated family affair rather than a symbol of excess or uber-marketing.

“Watching the Super Bowl with family and friends has become a cherished American tradition,” said Jason Alderman, director of financial education for Visa, who suggests that parents use the day as a “teachable moment” for their children about reasonable spending.

The proverbial Super Bowl party does involve a budget. A Visa survey of 1,000 adults in 17 regions revealed that 62 percent of Americans planned to hold a Super Bowl party, spending an average of $172 on the victuals and drinks.

The Super Bowl may not be the booziest and most he-man of American activities. It ranks eighth on a list of holiday events for beer consumption - behind Easter, Christmas and even Father’s Day according to Nielsen, which tracked consumer trends for the 2008 Super Bowl. The male TV audience for the game is larger - but not by that much, Nielsen found. Of the 97.5 million Americans who tuned in about a year ago, 45.8 million were men over the age of 18 and 37.7 million were women.

External events may put a damper on things, though.

“With the economy on everyone’s mind, most Super Bowl viewers will tone down their plans this year,” said Mike Gatti, director of the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association.

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