Prevent Trauma and Emergency Winter Accidents

Winter in Pennsylvania can be treacherous. The bitterly cold weather mixed with snowstorms, ice, wind, rain, sleet, and whatever else Mother Nature throws our way, often can cause serious, life-threatening injuries no matter how careful we are.

Charissa Pacella, MD, Chief of Emergency Services at UPMC Presbyterian, explains some of the common injuries that happen in the winter months and offers some helpful tips for staying safe.

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Slips and Falls

We spend a lot of time walking around outside, and sometimes not in the best conditions. “A lot of times we see people who slip and fell on ice who just weren’t paying attention, so it’s always best to make sure you carefully watch were you step and avoid any terrain that looks like it might be unsafe,” says Dr. Pacella.

Make sure you also:

  • Ensure your walkways and driveway are properly cleared of snow and ice.
  • Wear appropriate shoes or boots, selecting footwear that will provide good traction and stable footing.
  • Tread carefully, particularly at night, when you may not be able to see ice on the ground.

Winter Sports Injuries

As fun as winter sports are, snow and ice can bring it all to a sudden stop with an injury or accident. Whether you’re skiing, snowboarding, ice skating or sledding, there is always a risk for fractures and ligament damage, as well as head and spine injuries.

Warming up properly, wearing protective gear, and using the right equipment will help minimize and prevent injuries on the slopes, hills, or ice rinks.

Shoveling-Induced Heart Attacks

Shoveling heavy, wet snow can cause strain on the heart, especially for those who aren’t normally physically active, are smokers, or have heart disease or other health risks.

It’s best to stretch out your body before even picking up the shovel.  While shoveling snow, be sure to dress warm, stay hydrated, and take frequent breaks if you need to.  “Most importantly, don’t ignore heart attack symptoms that include chest pain, dizziness, or shortness of breath,” says Dr. Pacella. “Make sure to call 911 if you think you’re having a heart attack.”

Exposure To the Cold

Being out in the elements unexpectedly, underdressed, or underprepared can put you at a greater risk for developing hypothermia or frostbite.  But even when under cover, you can still develop hypothermia.

“Make sure your home is kept warm by keeping the thermostat set at least 68 to 70 degrees,” says Dr. Pacella. “Keeping a home even mildly cool at temperatures between 60 to 65 degrees can lead to mild hypothermia, especially in the elderly.”

When outside in the elements, hypothermia and frostbite can be avoided by wearing loose-fitting, lightweight layers of clothing, a hat, gloves, insulated socks, and water-repellent shoes.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About Trauma & Emergency Medicine

Emergencies can happen in the blink of an eye or in a heartbeat. And when they do, minutes matter. UPMC’s Emergency Medicine and Trauma Care services are ready to provide world-class care, no matter how serious your emergency. All our Emergency Departments have a full-time staff of emergency specialists at the ready 24 hours a day. We use advanced technology to diagnose and treat your condition and coordinate with your doctor to provide the best care possible. We also have specialized trauma care at several of our hospitals. If you or a loved one is experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 or visit the nearest Emergency Department.