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woman walking up snowy stairs outside

While dashing through the snow, don’t fall

Love it or hate it, snow typically falls in the Upstate of South Carolina at least once a year.

While most of us would like to stay inside where it is warm, we will eventually make our way outside into the winter wonderland.

When we do, it is important to beware of potential winter-related injuries and know what to do if they occur.

Falls

Ice is often more dangerous than snow, harder to detect and can stick around in areas that receive little sunlight.

Ice-related falls are often the leading cause of emergency center visits in cold weather months. Common injuries include broken bones, hurt backs or sprained joints. Head injuries are also common.

Appropriate care after a fall is always important, and this is especially true for older adults. An Immediate Care Center may be appropriate if you think you have a sprain or strain.

Many minor injuries can be treated by rest, ice, compression and elevation. Call your primary care doctor for advice, or try virtual care.

If you fall and are unable to get up (especially for those over age 65), think you may have a broken bone or are in severe pain, you probably need emergency care. This is especially important if you think you may have a head injury.

Heart Attacks

Shoveling snow or using a snow blower can be strenuous work, especially if your heart isn’t used to that level of activity. If you have one or more risk factors for heart disease, you should avoid overexerting yourself in cold weather.

If you experience shortness of breath, chest pain or any other heart attack symptoms, you should call 911 immediately.

Hypothermia

Hypothermia occurs when a person’s body temperature drops below 95°F. If you must be outside during frigid weather, wear layers and stay as dry as possible. Elderly individuals and young children are at more risk, but hypothermia can affect anyone, including pets. Warning signs of hypothermia include shivering, loss of dexterity, impaired thinking, high pulse and increased breathing.

If you think someone is suffering from hypothermia, call 911. Then, gently bring them out of the cold and remove any wet clothing. Cover them with blankets and provide warm beverages.

Don't apply direct heat. Don't use hot water, a heating pad or a heating lamp to warm the person. The extreme heat can damage the skin or, even worse, cause irregular heartbeats so severe that they can cause the heart to stop.

Frostbite

Frostbite can cause permanent damage to the body. Your extremities — hands, feet, ears or the tip of your nose — are most vulnerable. How soon this happens depends on how cold and windy it is outside. It can happen faster than you may think.

In severely frigid weather, frostbite can happen in just 5 minutes. Avoid prolonged time outdoors in frigid weather. If you must go outside, wearing gloves, warm socks and hats can help prevent frostbite.

The first signs of frostbite can be numbness, clumsiness and cold skin. The skin can also appear discolored or turn black. If you believe you may be experiencing frostbite, seek emergency care.

Carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide is often called “the silent killer” because it is an odorless, colorless gas found in exhaust fumes of carbon-containing fuels (gas, wood, coal, etc). Carbon monoxide decreases delivery of oxygen to your body. This can lead to brain and heart problems.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, nausea, dizziness and tiredness.

The risk for carbon monoxide poisoning increases in the winter due to an increased use of fume-producing products like fireplaces, furnaces and kerosene heaters. If you suspect someone may be suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, take them outdoors and call 911.

Stay safe

Heeding the tips and information above can help keep you and your loved ones safe during wicked winter weather. The Spartanburg Medical Center trauma team would love to meet you one day during a community event, but please do not meet us by accident.

For more information about our community-based injury prevention and outreach programs, visit spartanburgregional.com or call 864-560-6839.

T.J. Mack, MSN, RN, CEN, TCRN, is the trauma injury prevention and outreach coordinator for Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System.