By Chris Vinton, Medical Solutions Quality Assurance Specialist
Winter is a favorite season for many people. The holidays come around, families get together, snowmen are built, slopes are sledded, and snowballs are thrown. While people may love winter, winter does not always love people back! The season brings problems such as ice, subzero temperatures, excessive amounts of snow, and the fact some motorists get seasonal vehicular amnesia and completely forget how to drive in snow when it finally arrives. Because of this, many of you working in areas that will experience snowfall and/or icy conditions will encounter patients suffering injuries more likely to occur in the winter or even totally unique to the subzero season.
By far, the most common type of winter injuries are slips. Ice and snow are not known for having the best traction. Falls will be particularly harsh on elderly people and children. Snow and ice will also contribute to a higher level of motor vehicle accidents. Thankfully, motorcycle accidents are nowhere near as common as they are during the summer, but car accidents have a very high rate, around Christmas and New Year’s especially. Car accidents also increase significantly during the first snow of the season and the day after, as people do forget how to adjust for driving in the snow even though snow faithfully returns every year.
Winter sports can also be dangerous. More than 246,000 people were treated at hospitals, doctor’s offices, and emergency rooms for winter sports-related injuries in 2014. Much like slip and fall injuries, these can vary widely in degree but will affect the elderly and children more harshly. Injuries could range from a simple sprain to a dislocated shoulder to head lacerations to concussions. These injuries will typically happen at the end of the day, as people want to get that “one last run.” Frostbite is another danger in cold weather. It varies with conditions, but frostbite can happen in as little as a matter of minutes in ultra-harsh temps and it is much more likely to happen to people with poor circulation. Also, depending on the person, a patient may have either ignored frostbite or couldn’t get to care in time.
Lastly, flu season is in full swing. Always keep that in mind while you intake patients. Going with the theme of winter, children and the elderly respond much worse to the flu than other age groups.
As doom and gloom this article may appear, the good news is that injuries as a whole actually tend to decrease in the winter. So don’t let the stats on winter injuries scare you from skiing or enjoying the outdoors. Winter is a great time of year, but it also brings in new types of patients with season-specific injuries. Enjoy the holidays, stay warm, and be safe!