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more articles by Koch, Drew A. , DO  |  author's bio

Avoiding Cold Weather Injuries

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.


Winter driving


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.


Outdoor exercise


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.


Managing snow


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 better.


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.


Dr. 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.













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