Thinking about going out in the cold? Texas hospitals want you to avoid these potential injuries

Nicole Villalpando
Austin American-Statesman

Central Texans, emergency room doctors and nurses would like you to not fill up their emergency rooms during this cold weather snap because of preventable injuries.

On Thursday and Friday, St. David's Round Rock Medical Center's emergency room was busy with injuries mainly from motor vehicle crashes because of the icy roads, said Kristen Hullum, trauma injury prevention coordinator there.

Car accidents cause things like head, neck and spine injuries from the car stopping suddenly while the body continues to move, as well as broken bones and chest injuries. Hullum also worries about abdominal injuries from the seatbelt being worn too high on the abdomen instead of across the hips. 

She would like people to stay home instead of trying to travel on the roads, and while many people are emphasizing that, she emphasizes also to "stay inside your home."

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During cold weather, emergency rooms also see a ton people injured in falls, she said. People step outside to get the mail or take out the trash and don't realize that the sidewalks, driveways or porches have ice on them. Falls cause hip, leg and arm fractures, but they also can cause head injuries such as concussions or bleeding in the brain. 

These falls are a particular worry for older adults, especially those on blood thinners. 

Hullum is worried about a person who falls outside and is alone on the ground and can't get up. With the temperatures potentially dipping into single digits, hypothermia or frostbite are a threat. "It could be absolutely fatal," she said. "The trash can wait; the mail can wait." 

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Icicles hang from a sign at Allen Park during freezing weather in Austin, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021. The National Weather Service forecasts icy weather through Sunday evening, when a storm system is predicted to bring one to three inches of snow over South Central Texas.

If you do have to go outside, be careful with every step; bring your cellphone and a whistle to alert someone that you need help; and salt or sand the sidewalk, porch or driveway before stepping on it.

Dr. Ross Tobleman, emergency department director at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Round Rock, also worries about prolonged exposure to the cold.

If you are going to be out for a while, wear layers, especially covering extremities such as your feet and hands as well as your face. Then warm up inside with gentle warm air. Do not use hot water to try to treat frostbite or windburn.

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He's especially worried about the homeless population and expected to start seeing them come into the emergency room with weather-related injuries.

If you are receiving nursing care or hospice care, check in with your provider about getting portable oxygen tanks and other extra medical supplies sent to you or about help with electricity or heating concerns.

Power outages leading to people trying to heat their home with alternative means are also a concern because of fire and carbon monoxide risks. Some guidelines:

  • Do not use space heaters that do not have automatic shut-off switches.
  • Do not use the oven to heat the house.
  • Do not use portable generators inside the house.
  • Do not run the car inside the garage.
  • Be careful with candles and do not leave them burning without watching them.
  • Do not use a fireplace that has not been cleaned and inspected recently.
  • Make sure the fireplace flue is open before lighting it.
  • Use extra blankets to stay warm instead of alternative heat sources.

If you avoid creating an emergency, that will free up fire and ambulance crews who will be stretched thin during the cold weather, Tobleman said.

"You don't want to put those people in extra danger unless you have to," he said.

But if you are having chest pains, signs of a stroke or abdominal pains, don't avoid getting help or calling for an ambulance.

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Cardiac events actually increase during big temperature swings, Tobleman said.

If you can, he said, "Enjoy the weather from inside your home."