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Six Tips to Help You Stay Safe and Out of the Emergency Department This Winter
Winter weather fills the emergency department with unexpected, and often tragic, injuries. As an emergency physician, I know that not all injuries are preventable – but most are. Here are some of our top tips to help keep you and your family injury-free this winter:
- Watch Where You’re Walking Falls (and related fractures and bruises) are the most common type of injury we see in the emergency department. These falls are especially dangerous for the elderly, who are more likely to break an arm or a hip.Please be careful when you’re walking! Black ice can hide under snow. Wet leaves can also be dangerous. Make sure to wear shoes with a good grip.
- Wear Helmets For Snow Sports Many of us remember the story of Natasha Richardson, the actor who died after a ski accident. These types of unfortunate injuries and deaths are almost completely preventable. Please be sure your kids, and you, wear good-fitting helmets when you’re skiing or sledding. A fact that you may not know: bicycle helmets are not as protective as snowsport-specific helmets.
- Stay Warm We’ve had an unseasonably warm fall. As the temperatures start to drop, remember to bundle up! Little kids and the elderly are particularly likely to get cold-related injuries like frostbite. People who have been drinking or using drugs are also at higher risk. Make sure to wear layers. Hats, thick socks, and warm hand coverings (mittens are better than gloves) are also helpful.We sometimes see cases of hypothermia (low body temperature) even in mild weather if it’s wet out. Plan ahead before going outside.
- Shovel Carefully Every year, we see a variety of injuries and illnesses – ranging from strained backs to heart attacks – from people who push themselves too hard while shoveling. Remember that shoveling is hard work. Take it slow and ask for help. If you decide to use a snowblower, make sure it’s OFF before clearing out stuck snow, and use a tool rather than your own hand to scrape out the snow, to avoid cutting off your fingers!
- Have A Carbon Monoxide Detector! Indoor generators and non-electric heaters can release carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can be fatal. First symptoms of CO exposure include nausea, headaches, and flu-like symptoms. Please make sure that you have a working CO detector in your house or apartment.
- Don’t Drink And Drive (or Operate other Machinery) This “top tip” applies in every season. But we always see an uptick in alcohol-related injuries around the holidays. If you’re feeling buzzed, you’re not safe to drive a car or operate heavy machinery! PLEASE have a designated driver, and drink responsibly.
Do enjoy the winter weather. It’s a beautiful time of year in New England, and we should all take advantage of the outdoor opportunities that the snow and cold provide us!
Know that my colleagues and I staff our Lifespan emergency departments 24x7, 365 days a year, just in case you need us. But we would all prefer for you to be enjoying the winter with your friends and family, rather than visiting the ED for a cold-weather-related injury.
Megan L. Ranney, M.D., M.P.H., FACEP
Megan L. Ranney, M.D., M.P.H., FACEP, is an emergency medicine physician at Rhode Island Hospital. She is also a researcher, focusing on the intersection between digital health and injury prevention, and is the principal investigator for studies focused on mHealth interventions to prevent intentional injury among high-risk populations.. Dr. Ranney is also the director and founder of the Emergency Digital Health Innovation (EDHI) program, and an editor for the journal Annals of Emergency Medicine.