Avoiding Cold Weather Injuries
by Drew Koch, DO
Significant snowfall and frigid
temperatures this winter have brought many patients to area emergency
departments with cold weather-related injuries. Many of these injuries could
have been avoided by following some easy, common sense guidelines.
One of the first things we notice
at the beginning of winter, and after each new storm, is an increase in the
number of motor vehicle accidents. While many of these accident victims suffer
relatively minor injuries, some of these people are among the most seriously
injured patients we see in the emergency department.
To improve your own safety while
driving this winter, slow down. Don’t drive too fast for the current conditions.
Be prepared to stop and keep an adequate amount of space between your car and
the car ahead of you. We are a society in a rush; however, having an accident
on the way to where you are going is a very dangerous waste of your time and
could end up injuring or killing you or someone else. It is also not too late
to install good snow tires on your vehicle. This is an investment that could
help save your life on the hills in Tompkins County.
It is crucial to dress
appropriately when enjoying outdoor activities in cold weather. Always cover
your head, dress in layers, and pay special attention to warm footwear and
gloves or mittens. Wind chill can cause temperatures to dip dangerously and it
is important to protect your head, hands, and feet.
Children are especially susceptible
to frostbite and hypothermia, as are the elderly, so be sure to bundle them up
and see that they come indoors periodically to warm up. Frostbite, which most
commonly affects hands, feet, nose, and ears, is painful and dangerous.
Hypothermia, which occurs when the body’s core temperature drops too low, is a
medical emergency that can lead to death if not recognized and treated
immediately. People with certain chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes
and hypertension, are also at increased risk for injury from exposure in cold
weather, as are people on medication for psychiatric illness.
Slips and falls
Wearing good winter footwear when
outside walking gives you the added benefit of decent traction, which can help
prevent you from slipping and falling on icy sidewalks. We treat lots of broken
wrists, hips, ankles, and shoulders during winter from slips and falls. One
particular word of advice to dog owners this time of year: if your big dog
suddenly decides to take off at a run, drop the leash rather than be pulled
down on an icy sidewalk. Your dog will come back and you can avoid fracturing
your wrist as you try to break your fall or suffering a concussion from hitting
your head on the sidewalk.
Give some serious thought to using
a snow blower to clear your driveway and sidewalks because it is easy to overdo
it when clearing heavy snow with a shovel. If you are shoveling snow and you
experience sudden feelings of indigestion, chest pain, shortness of breath, or
profuse sweating, stop shoveling at once. If the symptoms persist for more than
a few minutes, you may be having a heart attack and should call 911. Remember,
time is muscle, and the sooner you get to the nearest emergency room, the
One final word about snow blowers:
if your snow blower stalls or becomes jammed, turn it off. Then clear the
blockage with a stick or some other tool. We’ve seen too many people lose their
fingers by sticking their hands into a jammed snow blower.
Koch is board certified in emergency medicine and is the medical director of
the Emergency Department at Cayuga Medical Center. He is a Fellow of the
American College of Osteopathic Emergency Physicians.