It’s December in Missouri, so it’s only a matter of time before we experience our first bout of winter weather that may include freezing temperatures, snow, ice or all three at once.
According to Bothwell Regional Health Center Emergency Department physician Dr. Stan Wilson, the most frequent injuries he sees in the ED during winter weather are due to motor vehicle accidents and falls.
“When we get our first ice or snowstorm, we see a big flurry of wrecks and falls,” he said. “I think a lot of people in Missouri think they can drive the same no matter the weather or road conditions and that causes problems.”
Wilson cautioned people to check forecasts and plan ahead for activities to avoid ending up with an injury.
“When possible, shop before an impending storm and reschedule unnecessary appointments,” he said. “And don’t go outside if you don’t have to. We see a lot of people who fall trying to get their mail, shoveling snow or going to a vehicle. The paper and mail can wait.”
Wilson said before a storm hits is a good time to make sure homeowners have ice melt on hand to keep steps and sidewalks free of ice and, for some, to think about finding someone else to shovel snow.
“The elderly, especially those with heart conditions or diabetes, should not be shoveling,” he said. “Too much exertion too quickly, especially in the cold, can cause exhaustion or even heart attacks.”
Elderly people are especially vulnerable to winter conditions because they can lose body heat fast — faster than when they were young. A sudden drop in temperature can turn into a dangerous problem for the elderly before they even know it’s happening. Wilson said watching inside temperatures and dressing appropriately are also important in the winter months.
“Ask family or friends to check on you during cold weather, especially if you live alone,” he said. “Hypothermia can happen quickly if a home isn’t warm enough. Other times, people fall and they’re down for hours until someone calls to check on them.”
While serious issues like hypothermia, broken bones and head injuries should be seen in the Emergency Department, Wilson said it’s important for people to remember that not all injuries need to be seen in the ED.
“A lot of people think they’ll be seen more quickly if they go to the emergency room, but there are some injuries or illnesses best served in a doctor’s office or the walk-in clinic,” he said. “We have to prioritize cases, and strokes and heart attacks go to the front of the line. While our average wait time is about two to three hours, people with less serious injuries could wait a lot longer.”
Using common sense, planning ahead and being proactive this winter are keys to avoiding injuries and illness, Wilson said.
“An ounce of prevention can go a long way in staying injury free and healthy this winter,” he said. “It’s also important that everyone gets the latest flu and COVID-19 vaccinations to battle those illnesses. That prevention can help keep you out of the ED and hospital and save those resources for the sickest people.”
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